*Out of the Shadows* by Sue Hines
This is a wonderfully well-told story of teenage sexuality and psychology which I highly recommend to parents and teachers of young adolescents. The plain language and narrative style are a godsend for less capable readers particularly, and the narrative agents, Ro and Jodie, are sympathetic and complex personalities, 'rounded' characters in the best possible sense. The thematic emphases on anti-homophobia rather than pro-homosexuality, and tolerance of differences rather than their glorification, are a welcome relief, and the novel fills a real gap in the market. Teenagers will certainly be able to relate to the central characters and the schoolyard dynamic depicted. The novel avoids simple stereotyping in an adept and engaging manner. The minor themes of friendship, managing grief, and bullying are also very well-handled.
Cultural contexts are clearly identified and explicated, and all readers will be able to empathise with the primary settings of the novel: the family, school, and the peer group. What I particularly like is the way the text deals with a range of relationships and situations in each of these areas, without privileging one or another. This is not a novel which preaches to the reader, rather, it is a coming of age story which will enrich and enhance the experiences teenagers themselves face as they too come of age. Along with the serious issues highlighted there is a vein of humour which runs through the narrative, and Ro's entries in particular are engagingly self-conscious and ironic.
As a teacher of young migrant and refugee students the first thing which appealed to me was the actual physical spacing of the text (which I hope is retained for the American edition). For N.E.S.B. readers such as ours any text consisting of pages and pages of closely-typed script is a daunting prospect, a deterrent to reading in fact. With *Out of the Shadows* many of our beginning English readers have been encouraged to take on the demands of a 'full-length' novel for the first time. Along with this, the stylistic clarity of the narrative makes it accessible to a variety of student ability levels, and it has been a useful text across a wide range of subject and age groups also. The dual perspectives are sustained effectively throughout the novel and afford an excellent entry point for literary analysis. This narrative scheme also lends itself to partial readings, making it a good resource for lower ability readers at all levels as well. Though emphatically not a didactic or moralising book, it does not shy away from the deeper ramifications of its themes, and is an excellent stimulus for classroom discussion on the issues of adolescent sexuality and psychology, and prevailing social attitudes and taboos. Teachers reluctant to set texts such as *Johnno* or *A Hard God* for their classes will feel much more comfortable teaching to *Out of the Shadows*.
I cannot speak highly enough of this novel. Sue Hines demonstrates a mastery of understatement and allows her characters and their relationships to speak for themselves. There is a freshness and sincerity about this book which I find particularly appealing, and the story is told with vigour and charm in equal portions. I look forward to future instalments from this talented young writer.