Ballad for a Mad Girl reviewed by Annie

Vikki Wakefield’s first novel All I Ever Wanted is my favourite book for young adults, and one of my top books of all genres. I also enjoyed her second and third stories and was pleased to see a fourth out. I like my books firmly set in the real world, and Wakefield does this so well. This latest offering takes it to another realm. I wasn’t sure if I would like it as much as her others but was prepared to see what she would do with this element. Sure enough she took me on the ride and I was more than prepared to go along with it.

Grace is in her final year of school. Her mother was killed in an accident two years ago, and she has moved with her father and older brother into the town of Swanston, leaving the farm she grew up on behind.

Her tight knit group of friends, Kenzie, Amber, Pete, Gummer and Mitch have supported her through the tragedy, and laughed as she acts out and plays tricks on the Sacred Heart rivals in the private school next to the public school they attend.

But then strange things start happening to her and around her. At first she doesn’t know what is going on, then she believes she is seeing the ghost of Hannah Holt, a girl who went missing over twenty years ago when she was around the same age as Grace. While this is difficult for her she is also relieved ‘because the fragile possibility of ghosts means everything. If I can feel the unquiet spirit of a long-dead girl, maybe my mother is still here, somewhere. Maybe she can hear me’.

She doesn’t feel she can share this with anyone, but when she does open up to her friends they are concerned for her, and want her to get help. Wakefield shows the teenagers heading in different directions with all of the angst and confusion it brings when ‘the rules don’t fit’ anymore.

Grace investigates the disappearance of Hannah and the subsequent suicide of William Dean, who was accused of killing her, even though a body was never found. She is looking for answers in everything she sees, but wonders ‘what if madness is really grief, trapped inside? You think it’s gone but it’s still in you, worming through your flesh, infecting everything’.

The young characters are, as always, authentic, flawed and multi-layered like Amber looking for love, even over the fence with a Sacred Heart boy and Gummer who prefers to sleep on the couch at Grace’s house rather than going home.

With sensitivity Wakefield shows the grief of a child for her mother, what parents go through when they lose a child and the rumour and innuendo that develop, especially in a small town, when mysteries are left unexplained. The portrayal of Grace’s mother, showing her struggle with her own demons, the pressure of her family and her attempt to fit into a family on a farm is delivered with depth and empathy.

This is like a crossover novel – part reality, part paranormal, that should appeal to readers of both. It worked for this reality girl.

 

 

 

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