A funny, poignant, heartwarming story of first love, first job, friends, family and the inevitability of change in the first summer out of school.
Bill Condon was born in 1949 and lives with his wife Dianne (Di) Bates, also a children's author, in the seaside town of Woonona, on the south coast of New South Wales. He left school at the first chance he got and worked in an assortment of jobs before a chance meeting with Larry Rivera, the editor of a local weekly newspaper, led Bill into a career as a journalist. He left journalism to devote himself full-time to writing for children, and in 2010 Bill was the winner of the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction for his book Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God. When not writing, Bill plays tennis, snooker, and Scrabble, but hardly ever at the same time. His dream is to receive a wildcard invitation to play tennis at Wimbledon - if nothing else, his knees would provide great comic relief for the spectators.
I really like it when I pick up a book and the story grabs me straight away. I’m an impatient reader really and Bill Condon’s A Straight Line to My Heart got me in immediately. Don’t let the title fool you though; it’s not some naff, girly romance book. Yes, the protagonist is female, but it’s a story of the ‘everyday’; a story that we can all relate to in some way. I’m so glad that finally, I don’t have to read about vampires, or rich girls who gossip too much, or orphaned boys who develop some super-human skills to spy on foreign powers. This is a book about people and the things most of us deal with at some time in our lives – growing up, opening up and facing up.
Tiffany – or Tiff as most people call her – is a raw character. She lives in a tiny country town and she’s seen her fair share of life’s knocks. Sharing her world is grandfather-figure Reggie and big-brother type Bull. They might not be her real family, but they are as close as Tiff can get. Enter Kayla her best friend, a washed up journo known as ‘The Shark’ and Davey the ‘Big Foot’ and you have a company of characters that work well together. None of the characters in Condon’s novel have dreams of grandeur. They understand their place in the world and just want a little piece of it for themselves. Sure, Tiff and Kayla want to see the world beyond Gungee, but they are realistic and the dream to travel to Surfers Paradise is pretty much as big it gets. What is great about this book though, is that the characters could be you or me. They have the same life experiences, hopes and thoughts and they all keep stuff hidden in their hearts.
Tiff has a few things on her plate in this story. She’s doing some work experience at a local newspaper, learning to drive and she is mulling over the unexpected attention of a football player. Add to this her concern over Reggie’s health and Kayla’s family news and you can see that Tiff has a lot on her mind. Usually Tiff can bury her thoughts in the pages of a book, but this week, even Charles Dickens doesn’t seem to help. Tiff must face what’s coming head on and maybe even have to open her heart to others along the way.
Pitched at a mainly female, early teen audience, A Straight Line to My Heart is a good read. The vocabulary is straight-forward, if not relatively simple and the chapters are compact. There’s virtually no swearing, little mention of modern technology and the teenagers generally respect authority figures. It would be a valuable addition to a school wide-reading program simply because there’s nothing in it to cause controversy.
Overall, I enjoyed Bill Condon’s novel. He’s a good story teller and I found the plot to be complete and straightforward. I’ll happily share it with my Year 8–10 readers. We can all learn a little from Tiff’s way of dealing with things in life. It doesn’t have to be complicated, it can sometimes be challenging but if we are honest with ourselves, life can be pretty good after all.
Peta Egan, Ormiston College, QLD
This is a book that will make a straight line to every reader’s heart from the very first page. Tiffany the young narrator is using the present tense and there’s an honesty and immediacy in which she describes her thoughts and feelings. Chapter One finds her in her local library reading Wuthering Heights and letting us into her most private thoughts: “It is all so sad as Katherine died two hours after the birth of her daughter just like my mum!” Immediately we want to read on to find out more about this young girl and her life.
Tiffany lives in a small country town facing the usual anxieties that teenagers face. She is intelligent, caring and has a great sense of humour. She is excited that a young man has stopped to talk to her in the library yet goes into a wild rage destroying an old lady’s sunflowers when she realises he only wanted to sell raffle tickets to her. We are then introduced to her unusual but loving family, her best friend and her problematic mother, the girl who has romantic inclinations towards her ‘step-brother’ and eventually a few more characters from Tiffany’s work experience stint at the local paper.
It is a fast paced book and an enjoyable read. And although it deals with some big issues such as identity, families, relationships, friendship, life choices, ageing and even death, it is always a very positive and up-beat story. The book is very much about love and devotion, growing up, understanding your world and making life choices as much as it is about growing old and coming to a kind of acceptance of the natural order of things. It is also about the love of books and their ability to transport the reader into another world.
Angela Vassiliou, Adelaide High School, SA
‘If you can’t get a boy, get a book, that’s my motto.’ Tiff has finished school and must decide what to do with her life. She is about to embark on work experience at the local newspaper to see if she wants to be a journalist. As an orphaned baby, Tiff was abandoned by a succession of adults until Reggie and the departed Nell took her in. Nell’s son, Bull, a local policeman, has become Tiff’s father-figure whereas Reggie is more like her grandfather. When Reggie decides his end is near, Tiff and Bull are worried. In the local library, Tiff meets Davey, a football player who shares her love of reading but whose interest in her relates to how many raffle tickets she will buy. Tiff’s best friend, Kayla, advises her to forget him. At the Eagle, Tiff is paired up with Shark, an aging hard-boiled journalist so focused on getting the next story he doesn’t care whether or not Tiff finds her vocation. Tiff begins to doubt she has what it takes to be a journalist after all.
The inevitability of change is the author’s underlying message. Certainly no victim to her unfortunate beginning, Tiff is a sympathetic protagonist; down to earth, funny and caring. She is the kind of friend every girl wants, especially when it comes to changing a younger sibling’s nappies. “‘Yuck!’ I hold my hands in front of me and shake them wildly – hoping my fingers might fly off. I have no use for them anymore.” Throughout the novel, Condon’s humour balances the foreshadowing of sad events such as Reggie’s declining health and Kayla’s precarious domestic circumstances. Tiff learns she has the resources to face whatever lies ahead. Another strong theme is the importance of family. Both Tiff and Kayla have ‘twisty-turny’ families that are, nevertheless, loving and functional.
While this novel may appeal mostly to girls, there are no barriers to boys liking it too. A Straight Line to My Heart will stimulate classroom discussion about the need for resilience in an unpredictable world. It is also a fine example of the craft of writing an engaging story.
The title describes Tiff’s reaction to a photo of her mother. In my opinion, it also predicts how the book will affect readers. That is, it will march straight into their hearts.
Sharon Hammad, Winmalee, NSW
What a gem of a novel. Dare I say I think that it is even better than Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God? From the opening line: ‘There’s nothing quite as good as folding up into a book and shutting the world outside.’ I knew I was going to love Bill Condon’s latest, and I wasn’t wrong. I was wearing a smile almost all the time I was reading, except when I was stifling a sob. It is a beautifully observed novel, told through the voice of Tiff(any) who has been swept up in the unconditional love of Bull and Reggie ever since ... well, read it to understand the circumstances, but it's been all her life.
The dialogue is absolutely right for the two laconic Aussie battlers, Bull and Reggie. So much humour. So much chiacking - a good old Aussie word that means good humoured banter in a very particular Aussie way. Because this is such an Australian story. There’s also so much love.
Tiff is a reader. She lacks confidence, but she's smart and quick-tongued (she has to be in this family) and she doesn't expect to ever have a boyfriend. She's wrong, and how it all happens is just part of this story that is about family, friendship, finding your place in the world of work and yes, a touch of romance.
Bill Condon has captured the voice of a 17-year old girl beautifully. Every character has a purpose to push the narrative along and is memorable in their own way. No stereotypes here. The jaded newspaperman, the not-quite centenarian, her friend Kayla and her complicated family, Bull's girlfriend Zoe, Davey, the unlikely love interest — all are written with humour and affection. I shut the world outside and folded up into a story that went straight to my heart.
Judi Jagger, WA
The cover is an inspiration in itself, and the title quite intriguing. From the moment you pick up this book, you will really feel like you are there with the characters. Written in a believable, non-sensational manner, you will feel all that the characters feel, you will put yourself in their shoes and you will grow along with Tiff and her challenging week ahead. None of the characters live particularly ‘out there’ lives, bonded together through one of the many formations of the modern family, they support, love and care for one another the way they best know how.
The main character Tiff and her best friend Kayla are finished with school. Life is about to take a grown up turn and both girls are about to enter the world of adulthood. For Tiff, bookworm, aspiring journalist and ‘granddaughter’ to Reggie, she is about to meet the first boy who shows an interest in her, suffer a horrible (yet – dare I say it, slightly funny in parts?) tragedy and open the door to what’s really inside her soul.
Working at the newspaper does not pan out the way Tiff believes it will, and her dreams of becoming a journalist are soon set to rights. Tiff is an open honest girl, and has grown up with her fair share of challenges. She lacks confidence in herself, but this too gradually starts to change throughout the progression of the novel, until the climax where you really feel Tiff has found the right words of her own, and not those of a famous writer.
This story is sensitive, poignant, and in places funny. Even at the end where I was crying, there was still room for humour SPOILER **** REGGIE SAYS HE WILL COME BACK AND HAUNT YOU IF YOU CRY *** and for me, the sign of a great story is one that inspires the reader to really feel. Written by Bill Condon, you clearly hear the voice of a young adult coming through his words. I would recommend it for Grades 8 10 and most likely for girls. It would be great as a way to inspire young women to write their own lives, maybe a personal memoir or the like.
Francesca Tulk, TAS
The title of this book will appeal to mainly girls. The boys will ignore it, which is a pity as the book has a ‘blokey’ feel to it. The story is about Tiff, a girl that bought up by her ‘adoptive’ grandfather and ‘uncle’. Tiff has just finished Year 12 and gets the opportunity to have work experience in the local newspaper, as this is something she has always wanted to do as a career. Tiff is trying to find her way in life and to see where she fits in, whether it will be in her small country town or moving to the city, staying with her family or trying to find her biological one or trying to find love. The book is not a typical ‘chick-lit’ novel but one that tries to balance a girl’s voice written by a man, as it discusses the themes of love, family and friendship. There are plenty of other segues that keep the reader interested. I quite enjoyed this book and would recommend it to middle secondary (Year 9 +) readers as I think that they would get more out of the novel and enjoy reading it. This book is an alternative to those books about vampires that cover the same themes of love and friendship, as it is based in real life.
Alison Hay, Yarra Hills Secondary College, VIC