Teenage life in the media spotlight
There’s YA realism and there’s YA realism. 'One True Thing' is definitely the latter: a great story with a relatable protagonist who draws the reader into current, relevant and topical issues. Following Nicole Hayes's 2013 debut novel 'The Whole of My World', which examined grief and the attitude of sports clubs and stars towards women; 'One True Thing' – released earlier this month – tackles the media, its treatment of women in politics, and the effect of negative coverage on families.
Frankie, 16, is the daughter of Rowena Mulvaney, who, after being elevated to Premier of Victoria by her party, is running to be the first elected female premier of the state. Other than this, Frankie is your average teenage girl: she’s into music, hangs with her friends, and is in a band – No Politics – with Kessie, Tyler and Van. Frankie knows everyone is watching her, waiting for some embarrassing moment they can post online, and this grows more acute as the election campaign begins – anyone with a phone or a camera can be a ‘reporter’. Best friend and political activist Kessie is off spending more time with her new girlfriend, and introduces Frankie to her new neighbour, Jake, who has aspirations to be a journalist, photographer and get to know Frankie better.
Frankie’s busy juggling school, a blossoming relationship, the band’s internal politics and occasional media appearances with her mum until photos are released showing the Premier with a younger man. Rumours fly, and Frankie’s parents won’t tell her or younger brother Luke exactly what’s going on. Suddenly every move Frankie and her family makes is on show, under scrutiny and everyone seems to know more about her life than she does.
I have to admit that, as a former journalist, I was nodding my head in furious agreement all the way through this book. The grubby headline-creating, ratings-chasing, ‘it’s all in the public interest’, personal vendetta reporter/journalist/presenters do exist – and damage can be done quickly, easily and without remorse. 'One True Thing' reflects recent and current events, including media hounding of former Australian PM Julia Gillard, and the ‘woman issue’ in politics. The rumours, innuendo, bullying, harassment and scrutiny is particularly hard on Frankie and Luke; who know the truth, but are still on the receiving end of the fallout at school and in public. The story also explores issues of good publicity versus bad publicity, the role of the media, and the impact of coverage regarding the private lives of public figures – and the families who did not ask to be part of public life.
Hayes’s first book, 'The Whole of My World', hit hard at the culture surrounding sports clubs – a culture that is, hopefully, changing. As characters, Frankie, her family, Kessie and Jake are all easy to like, well-written and believable; and while not every teenager is the child of a public figure, the messages from 'One True Thing' are clear: everyone is watching everyone all the time; the message is hard to control; and negative coverage – whether through a radio show, television news, magazine, or a throw-away comment on a blog or social media site – can have far-reaching and devastating effects; regardless of their truthfulness or validity. Hayes has demonstrated in both her books that ‘adult’ issues are not out of reach of younger readers; in fact, by making these topics accessible she proves that, as Premier Mulvaney says, “All it takes for evil to happen is for good women to stand back and watch.”