Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet). A dark coming-of-age story for the digital generation. Small town prejudices put to the test. From the blurb, it sounded like Weightless by Sarah Bannan was going to be my kind of book. It was. Here’s the blurb:
Before Carolyn Lessing came, nothing much had ever happened in Adamsville, Alabama. The blistering heat was never remarked upon, and the students had learnt to seek out air conditioning in the fast food restaurants in town. And every week, at dinner tables and in the high school assembly, everyone would pray for the football team to win. Its captain, Shane Duggan, went out with Brooke Moore, the ‘hottest’ girl in school, the cheerleaders never hung out with the swim team, seniors did not go out with freshmen and everything was as it had always been. Then the new girl arrived. All Carolyn’s social media could reveal was that she came from New Jersey, that she had 1075 friends on Facebook and that she didn’t have a relationship status. In beach photos with boys who looked like Abercrombie models she seemed beautiful, but in real life she was so much more. She was perfect. This was all before the camera crews arrived, before people could no longer see the line between gossip and truth, and before the Annual Adamsville Balloon Festival, when someone swore they saw Shane with his arm around Carolyn and cracks began to appear in the dry earth.
I felt a little shellshocked when I finished Weightless. It’s one of those books that leaves you, like the narrator (in this case narrators, since the novel was told in first person plural), not quite sure what just happened. Or exactly how it happened. Bannan explores modern-day themes of cyberbullying, hypocrisy and teen angst; the small-town setting that “wasn’t a place people came to” rather a “place where you were from” underscores the themes perfectly. The small town, where most everyone knows everyone, and the school, which is its own microcosm of society with popular kids, jocks, goths and losers, highlight the climb to belonging and the fall to alienation. This is a story where no one’s version can really be relied on – not the narrators, or Carolyn, those who made Carolyn’s life hell (or betrayed her), and not even the reader. As the narrators put it: “Nobody could remember what had really happened, but everyone had an opinion, including us”. It’s more than sad. It’s disturbing. Thought-provoking. And as a parent, concerning. At the end, you wonder, who didn’t play a part in Carolyn’s story.
Author Sarah Bannan gets modern–day teenagers. It’s clear from her writing style, the dialogue, and the colloquialisms (like rexy for a girl who’s either very skinny or is anorexic). Is this a YA book? It could be, and while I believe high-schoolers would benefit from studying it (as many have done Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye), I think it shouldn’t be limited to that market. Bullying exists in all areas of life and can be targeted at young and old.
Powerful and confronting, Weightless (a terrific title that can have so many interpretations) is a book I’m glad I read. Highly recommended.
Available from good bookstores (RRP $27.99). My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin via Bloomsbury Circus.