State Highway One by Sam Coley
Sam Coley won the 2017 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers for his very deserving debut novel State Highway One. The story is centred on Alex, a young Aucklander who returns home from abroad after the sudden death of his parents. Alex and his estranged twin sister, Amy, set off on a road trip through New Zealand, traveling Highway One to reconnect with each other. It is a story that bounces from childhood memories to present day. Alex and Amy’s parents were famous and spent most of their childhood absent from them. Despite their differences, the two are entwined as siblings are: only they understand each other, only together can they make sense of their parents and of the disaster that has fallen their way.
Coley has written a tremendous novel that will keep you on your toes. It is a coming-of-age book. And it is an adventure story filled with car crashes, mountain edges, camp sites, the kindness of strangers, junk food, booze and way too many Lucky Strikes. However, at the heart of this novel is Alex and his overwhelming grief. Consider State Highway One as a portal into the effect of traumatic stress and how that can change you and submerge you.
We all know literary characters that become so real that they form part of your own consciousness. By the end of this novel, I wanted to comfort Alex and let him know that these intense feelings will not last forever; that peace will arrive. I read this novel in one day while outside it rained heavily and the clouds covered the skyline in enormous bouts of grey. It was the perfect weather for reading such a novel that swept me up until the very last reckoning on the very last page. You’ve read Into the Wild and On the Road, now try this one. It will break your heart.