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Book review: This is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield

I started reading This is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield as it was longlisted for the Stella Prize, and I am trying to read at least a few of the books on the list.

This is How We Change the Ending followed Nate, a teenager living with his aggressive and volatile father, his father’s young girlfriend, and his twin half-brothers.

At school, Nate is constantly on alert against violent classmates who are on the lookout for any sign of weakness. The only place they can go for respite from the unpredictability of the world around them is the local youth club, which loses some of its role as a haven when a volunteer is brutally beaten in front of the teens.

Throughout the story, Nate and the other characters seem destined for disaster, and it is always a surprise when trouble is averted. It is clear that the young people have no real options to create a better life, and most are resigned to their situations.

But it is a reality that frustrates Nate, and which his coming of age involves railing against. In this way, the book is more hopeful than it might sound.

Nate is smart and likeable, and he is not without love and support. His young stepmother, Nance, does what she can to protect him from his father, at her own risk.

Wakefield managed to maintain a sense of tension and foreboding throughout the story, but did introduce moments of respite. There is the warmth of Nate’s relationships with his baby brothers, Nance, his friend, Merrick, and the volunteers at the youth centre.

I enjoyed both the tension and the times it was broken with tenderness or humour, and Nate is a very likeable character. In particular, Nate’s father, Dec, loomed large over the story. Although he prided himself on never hitting his family, he was a menacing figure. Perhaps it would have been nice to have had some background on Dec and how he came to be such a horrible person.

At times, I worried that the depiction of Nate’s relationship with his teacher bordered on Dead Poet’s Society, but then Wakefield cleverly and wryly acknowledged the similarity. Clearly, sentimentality was not allowed in Nate’s world, at least without a cynical or sarcastic comment.

Wakefield expertly evokes that awkward time in life when being guarded is the only option in the face of inevitable, or at least likely, humiliation for anyone who is different, or attracts attention for any reason.

This story was highly readable, moving and believable, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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