The Truants

The Truants

Kate Weinberg

Bloomsbury 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5266-0012-7


 

Whether it’s as basic as skipping school or smoking a bit of pot in the toilets to theft or worse; doing the wrong thing can be alluring. One of the questions Kate Weinberg asks in her novel The Truants is, “could you be driven to kill someone?”

Following the move to University in Norfolk, Jess discovers a sense of freedom for the first time. Being the middle of five children, she’s always felt as if she were invisible, and has mastered the art of being unseen. Bookish and overshadowed by her siblings, university is Jess’s chance to shine. However, after being booted from Lorna’s class “The Devil has the Best Lines” during fresher’s week, Jess feels her world tumbling around her. After a rather intense enquiry to tutor herself, Jess finds herself enrolled in Lorna’s Agatha Christie course instead and is faced with her first challenge: securing the reading-list without blowing her meagre budget. And is it really theft if you plan on returning it? Drawn in by Lorna’s larger-than-life presence and quickly becoming a favourite, it’s almost as if Jess is being seen for the first time.

Having befriended Georgie, Jess finds a social life-line at uni, someone to force her towards the fun things living on campus has to offer. Georgie is wild-willed and Jess revels in her company, forming close bonds with not only Georgie but her mysterious South African boyfriend Alec, who drives a hearse and always thinks up the greatest schemes. Joined by second year geology student Nick, the group are almost inseparable. That is, until it all goes terribly wrong.

With Georgie’s growing drug problem and the rising tensions in South Africa, it seems the fun is over. Jess’s world is about to come crashing down and with no-one else to turn to but Lorna, will it all have been worth it? And who is Lorna, really? Why did she leave her esteemed position at Cambridge to work at Norfolk?

The thrill of doing wrong – and getting away with it – is ultimately captured in Weinberg’s novel as the reader delves into the increasingly complicated lives of Lorna, Alec, and Jess. With authentic, complex characters guaranteed to draw you in and extraordinary wit Weinberg’s writing is a refreshing look at the Christie mystery and the power a charismatic speaker has to influence the lives of those around them. Filled with secrets and mysteries to be solved, The Truants is enthralling. Dealing with a range of issues facing young people including drug abuse, mental and sexual health, and relationships, The Truants is perfect for anyone fifteen and up.

 


Words by Kayla Gaskell

The Hunting

Every now and then we are gifted with a piece of art that forces us to confront our biggest fears and society’s greatest misgivings and this is exactly what the Australian mini-series The Hunting has done. This four-part drama which aired on SBS last Thursday, follows the release of nude photos in two Adelaide high schools and the irreversible impact this has on the students, families, and educators. Closer Productions, a collective of accomplished Adelaide-based filmmakers, present an exploration of sexuality and its intersections with gender and culture, offering a complex and genuine portrayal of adolescent life in Australia.  Creators Sophie Hyde and Matthew Cormac, and directors Hyde and Ana Kokkinos have produced a compelling and intuitive series that doesn’t shy away from explicit themes.

In the opening scene we meet Zoe and Andy, played by Luca Sardelis and Alex Cusack respectively. Cybersex is the catalyst for the dramas that arise between these characters – betrayal and a breakdown of trust. Zoe and Andy stand as accurate, in-depth representations of how adolescents explore their sexuality, and the different pressure experienced as a result of masculinity and femininity. Alongside Zoe and Andy, we see Kavitha Anandasiyam play Amandip, a young Indian teenager, and Yazeed Daher play Nassim, a Lebanese teenage boy. Together these characters spark an exploration into the impact culture has on the sexual development of adolescents. Through the character of Amandip, audiences see how conflicting expectations between ethnic home life and wider Australian society generates a fear that leads to secrets, and secrets which create a gulf between parents and their children. Like many young people, Amandip is living two separate lives, both of which she understands, respects and wants to be a part of.

These young adults should be highly commended for their mature, layered performances; such brave and captivating portrayals show the reality of adolescent life in the 21st century.  Mirroring these teenage couples is a sexual relationship which develops between two teachers, played by Jessica De Gouw and Sam Reid. This relationship proves significant as it reflects how the gender constructions and sexual insecurities acquired in adolescence are carried into adulthood: present in the bedroom, the workplace, and nights spent at a bar swiping through Tinder.

The parental representation in The Hunting is diverse. There is everything from a progressive lesbian couple to conservative migrant parents to those who have a grave disconnect from the reality of their children’s lives. Because of these vast representations, every parent will find a way into this series. This production may also serve as a wakeup call, as it demonstrates how society as a collective has provided insufficient education around sex and sexuality to teenagers. There are gaps – no, potholes – in in the way we conceptualise and discuss sex, sexual identity, and relationships with our young people: these holes form when no institution, whether it be school or home, takes responsibility for thorough and wholistic sexual education. The result? Teenagers enter the infinite and unregulated world of the internet because they are naturally curious.

The Hunting doesn’t throw a blanket over all adolescents. It doesn’t paint them all as basic, angsty individuals, but as complex and inquisitive beings.  This show also doesn’t suggest that parents further discipline their children, regulate their behaviour, or keep their teenagers on a shorter leash. Instead, this show exposes the need to guide, educate, and form open, honest connections with young people in order to empower them to make smart decisions. This needs to be done in schools and at home. There is a need to educate about the power of their bodies and the effects of their actions in this virtual and tangible world that is often unforgiving. This education can’t be done with a whiteboard or a slideshow or by taking notes. This requires two-way conversations that are constructive, comprehensive, and tolerant.

I would like to finish by saying that I wish The Hunting existed when I was in my adolescence: a show that didn’t skip over the darker conflicts of teenage life and didn’t bury its head in the sand in regard to how teenagers interact with each other. I say this not only because I, like many, relate to the young people in this series, but because I believe it would have educated parents and teachers on the need to more effectively relate to young people; it would have started important conversations; and it would have been a means of showing the teenage experience without demonising the teenager.

Catch up on the first episode on SBS On Demand and tune in for Episode 2 on SBS Thursday 8:30pm.


Words by Michelle Wakim