- Girls in Boys' Cars, by Felicity Castagna. Pan Australia, $18.99.
Escaping a life limited by sexism and the rituals of home and school, two young women set off on a road trip in a stolen car. The journey is narrated by Rosa, one of the duo, as she serves a sentence in juvenile detention. She explores the difficulties of writing as she attempts to record their experiences, in Felicity Castagna's engaging novel.
Rosa has always loved reading, and literary and film references are a feature of the book, including On The Road, One Thousand and One Nights (which we learn is a bad translation of the title) the works of Enid Blyton, Thelma and Louise and Dr Phil. Elvis pops up on several occasions.
The complications of story-telling and the way we make and remake ourselves are linked in the book. How do we write ourselves, and become ourselves? How do we escape others dictating our own view of ourselves? Asheeka (the other escapee) has given Rosa a "makeover", rendering her more visible, but is there much to be said for invisibility?
The girls' lives are shaped by misogyny, notably the way boys their age, or older, use their bodies as commodities in their own pursuit of status. Rosa and Asheeka must also deal expectations of parents. The ability to drive away from these problems and to define themselves is at the centre of the girls' stealing a car, but, of course, difficulties are met on the way.
The exploration of rural Australia (and Canberra) and the fires that wrapped the south-east in choking smoke in 2019-2020, form a backdrop.
Rosa is well aware how her writing seems to have so many incidents of the 'pathetic fallacy' that is, where external, non-human things such as weather seem to reflect human attributes, however the descriptions of the bushfires and the landscape seem unforced and add greatly to the novel.
A central question at the heart of Castagna's novel is what has happened to Asheeka, who disappeared after the girls' dramatic return to Parramatta. This mystery keeps the reader hooked right to the end.
Addictive, funny and moving, Girls in Boys' Cars is a well-written journey into the lives of young urban women, and their attempts to define themselves in an often hostile society. It makes you question how much has really changed since Puberty Blues was written in 1979.
- Penelope Cottier writes poetry as PS Cottier.