“That’s the thing about choices. They’re an act of knowledge… it’s how we make them that sets us apart, because every single day, worlds are colliding, and our choices shape so much more than just our own story.”
– Sarah Ayoub, The Yearbook Committee
Five teenagers. Five lives. One final year. The school captain: Ryan has it all … or at least he did, until an accident snatched his dreams away. How will he rebuild his life and what does the future hold for him now? The newcomer: Charlie’s just moved interstate and she’s determined not to fit in. She’s just biding her time until Year 12 is over and she can head back to her real life and her real friends … The loner: At school, nobody really notices Matty. But at home, Matty is everything. He’s been single-handedly holding things together since his mum’s breakdown, and he’s never felt so alone. The popular girl: Well, the popular girl’s best friend … cool by association. Tammi’s always bowed to peer pressure, but when the expectations become too much to handle, will she finally stand up for herself? The politician’s daughter: Gillian’s dad is one of the most recognisable people in the state and she’s learning the hard way that life in the spotlight comes at a very heavy price. Five unlikely teammates thrust together against their will. Can they find a way to make their final year a memorable one or will their differences tear their world apart?
I first saw the The Yearbook Committee by Sarah Ayoub at a YA presentation last year. A few months later, it appeared on the Harper Collins social media; they were bravely asking their readership to choose the cover for this book. Of the four covers that were on offer, I was really happy when this one was chosen as it was my favourite! I sent my request through for a reading copy and was so thankful to receive one… although I hadn’t read Ayoub’s first book, I was really looking forward to reading this one.
It makes sense that so many young adult books are set in high school yet it is unsurprising to see so many interpretations of the teenage experience. We have all been a teenager and a large portion have been teens at high school. It is definitely not the easiest time in one’s life. Each of us have such different experiences however there are certain stereotypes we have all met (or been). The Yearbook Committee is the story of five students who are forced together to see out their final year of school and put together the School’s annual yearbook. The school captain, the popular girl’s best friend, the nerd, the observer and the outcast; five distinctly different personalities all begrudgingly working towards a common goal. Gillian is the daughter of a politician, smart, enthusiastic, quiet and the victim of bullying; Charlie is the new girl, a feisty feminist who is counting down the days until she can escape Sydney and return to her ‘real life’ in Melbourne; Matty is the scholarship kid supporting himself and his mother who is fighting a crippling depression, working hard to keep them both afloat; Tammi is the popular girl’s best friend, constantly bowing to peer pressure and seemingly incapable of fighting for what’s right and Ryan, the school captain and all round nice guy who is struggling with a recent injury that has completely changed the trajectory of his future. According to the schoolyard politics, these five shouldn’t be talking, let alone developing a friendship of sorts. Will their differences prove to be an asset or will it tear their worlds apart?
The Yearbook Committee is probably my favourite representation of Australian students as opposed to the Americanised versions we see so often in fiction. It reminds me of Alice Pung’s Laurinda and although it is set in an elite Sydney private school, it could have easily been set in the Melbourne public school I attended many years ago. Ayoub’s story is comprised of five separate stories that meet at different points throughout the fictional year. The yearbook acts as a tool for revealing the progression of the lives of the characters all of whom are dealing with issues in their personal and school lives. Gillian, Charlie, Matty, Tammi and Ryan are beautifully created and diverse in their backgrounds and personalities. Ayoub has revealed enough about each character so that we can see where they have come from and where they are trying to go. Her characters have a lot to deal with; peer pressure, bullying and expectation – from family, friends and school – are heavy weights on these teens and what I love the most is how Ayoub is able to show how incredibly important talking about these issues are, without seeming preachy. The pressures placed on teens are very real and have consequences that shouldn’t be ignored. Social media has only highlighted how relentless, permanent and public these issues and pressures can be. But don’t worry, this book isn’t all serious. The banter, teasing and conversation between the five characters is laugh-out-aloud funny, witty and so very believable. Sometimes I find the conversation between non-adult characters to be beyond what they may actually converse about. I found Charlie to be the funniest character, whether Ayoub meant for her to be or not. Her snobby feminism – as on point as it may be – just left me giggling. Ayoub has captured the know-it-all teenage attitude perfectly and makes it endearing instead of annoying!
The Yearbook Committee is definitely one of my favourite YA books for 2016 so far. It is smart, funny and really important in regards to the issues it explores. Ayoub is a voice in Australian YA that I will be listening to and enjoying as much as I can!
AUTHOR: Sarah Ayoub
PUBLISHER: Harper Collins Publishers Australia
PUB DATE: 1 March 2016
Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!