I recently happened onto a tiny YA book (only 119 pages) called So Much to Tell You by an Australian author named John Marsden, and I’m absolutely blown away by this author’s personal journey and this, his debut book.
Marsden dropped out of law school and spent his early twenties drifting and directionless, unable to find a career that fit. He reports trying thirty-two jobs, including working in a mortuary and delivering pizzas. This ultimately led to depression and suicidal thoughts, after which he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. He credits that stint as a key turning point in his life. “It actually was very, very helpful, very constructive and very useful. Because I started learning about feelings and relationships and communication, and the way the world really worked.”
He eventually found his niche in education, where he now is principal of a school he founded. Concurrent with his career in education is his enormous success as a writer. So Much to Tell You was written in three weeks in 1987, and it quickly earned Australia’s book of the year award in 1988. He has gone on to write over forty more books, won just about every award there is, and has been named “Australia’s most popular author today in any literary field by The Australian newspaper.” His most acclaimed work, a seven-book series called Tomorrow, When the War Began is definitely on my to-read list.
So back to So Much to Tell You. Marina has been sent to boarding school and she isn’t sure why. Maybe because she didn’t progress well in the hospital, or maybe her mother doesn’t like to look at her face, or maybe so she will begin talking again. She hates pretty much everything about school and her life, except the assigned journal and that is how she tells her story.
Marsden has paced the book perfectly, gradually revealing the horrific reasons why Marina has stopped talking and the circumstances that permanently scarred her face and her spirit. True to his intent, Marsden majors in feelings and relationships and communication in this book. Mr. Lindell, the English teacher who assigned the journal, reaches out to Marina, as do several of the students in her dorm. They keep at it until she begins to open up through notes, half-smiles, home visits, and tears.
I won’t ruin the ending but not unlike Laurie Halse Anderson’s Melinda in Speak, the true breakthrough comes when Marina confronts the beast. This book artfully and gracefully tells a heartbreaking story, and you won’t be able to put it down.