This beautiful books is a touching tribute from one wonderful author of stories for teens to another. ‘On John Marsden‘ is the first of the Writers on Writers series from Black Inc. In this installment Alice Pung writes a letter to the author who has most influenced and inspired her writing.
“Love, knowledge, self-expression – these were things we sought as young adults, but did not trust the adult world to understand, let alone provide.”
Like Pung I grew up reading John Marsden’s books. They were ubiquitous in Australian schools. And I think you would be hard pressed to find an Australian who went to school in the 90s who hasn’t read or studied at least one of his books. But his work is also controversial in many ways. He doesn’t flinch in talking about things many adults would prefer to shield younger readers from. Whether that’s masturbation, poverty, or institutionalisation, amongst the many a varied topics that have had his books withdrawn from class lists.
“Your fiercest critics are probably those who have the luxury of thinking that childhood should be free of anxiety, worry, sadness, illness, stress and grief – emotions every child feels at some point or another.”
Pung explores Marsden’s direct style and the resistance to it by adults with such beautiful prose. I found myself marking almost every page, especially in the first half. It is clear that Pung has a deep respect for and understanding of her teen readers. And that she cares deeply for their struggles. She sees that same care in Marsden’s life and work, and beautifully weaves it into a tribute to his long career.
“Teenagers have unimaginable power, and maybe this is one of the reasons we are so afraid of them”
Towards the end the letter format begins to drag a little. I think it could have been about three quarters the length and still had the same message and impact.
The verdict for ‘On John Marsden’
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Overall this was a really terrific read, with some great take-away messages. Whether you are a fan of John Marsden, or Alice Pung, or just passionate about honest stories for teens you will find something to love in this little hardcover. I am looking forward to seeing what else emerges in this series of ‘Writers on Writers’.