Book Review – In Ecstasy by Kate McCaffrey
In Ecstasy is Perth author Kate McCaffrey’s second novel for teenagers. It was released in April of this year by Fremantle Press, and should be widely available in W.A. and elsewhere. McCaffrey is a high school English teacher like myself (and a lot of other writers, apparently) and her novel seems directed toward students in the 14-17 age group.
In Ecstasy mainly concerns two Year 11 girls, Mia and Sophie. The novel is narrated from both points of view, and they aren’t always in ‘time sync’ with each other. This is done to heighten tension and to withhold certain information at particular times, and for the most part I thought it was done well. Without being a teenage girl myself, I felt that McCaffrey has done a good job of appealing to the particular target audience. The language and slang seem appropriate, and there was nothing that seemed out of place or jarring.
Sophie and Mia are going in different directions. At the beginning of the novel they are close friends, and have been for some time, but they drift apart over the course of the narrative. Sophie is initially confident and perhaps the more popular of the two, but this changes rapidly. Mia is initially shy and reserved, envying her friend’s looks and demeanour, but her confidence blossoms, in no small part due to the drug Ecstasy.
This book is a virtual travelogue of the pitfalls of teenage life, including but not limited to drug use (ecstasy, marijuana, alcohol, cocaine), underage sex, date rape, and teenage pregnancy. As the novel progresses, we begin to see the two girls drift apart as Sophie withdraws from the drug/party culture. (Interestingly, a similar thing happened to myself at a similar age.) Mia, however, becomes more and more embroiled in the world of drugs and parties, and her health eventually suffers as a result.
Mia’s sense of self seems to come from a couple of sources: firstly, the ecstasy itself; and secondly her relationship with the ultra popular and rich Lewis Scott. This propels her into the popularity stratosphere, but it doesn’t last long. Without wanting to spoil the novel for potential readers, everything goes pear shaped for Mia. Consequently, her story is the dominant one in this novel, and here I encountered a potential problem. Sophie ends up becoming the more sensible of the two girls, and her narrative withers away to virtually nothing. Some of her sections are less than a page in length. But Mia’s story is interesting enough to sustain this reader’s attention.
I’m not sure if McCaffrey intended to address the idea of patriarchy and sexual equality at all, but I thought the novel did so in an implicit way. Most of the girls and women in this novel are in some sense slaves to men, be it physically or emotionally (or both). There is a reverse example, in which young Dominic seems to fawn over Sophie. I have noticed myself that ‘equal rights’ has gone backwards a long way in the past twenty years or so in this country, and In Ecstasy seems to reflect that in the enormous pressure these young girls feel to conform to notions of beauty and fashion sense. It’s very sad to think that we live in a world where girls are put under these kinds of pressures, but there it is.
Ultimately, In Ecstasy is a successful novel. It manages to cleverly interweave a tale around a number of important issues teenagers may face. It avoids being too blatantly an ‘issues novel,’ while carefully mapping this terrain. Most importantly, McCaffrey does this as an insider, not an outsider to the worlds of teenage experience. Any parent with teenage children should read this, as should the teenagers themselves. Hell, my daughter isn’t yet three, and I’m already worried by some of the material in this book, such as the odious Glenn. Highly recommended.
Kate McCaffrey has a wordpress blog of her own at katemccaffrey.wordpress.com