This is How We Change the Ending by Vikki Wakefield
Nate is stuck in a loop: go to school; go to the youth centre with his loudmouth best mate, Merrick; go home to his aggressive dad Dec, Dec’s new wife Nance and their three-year-old twin boys; lather, rinse, repeat. Nate is a worrier, concerned with the big things (climate change, inheriting Dec’s genes) and the small (the latest assignment from his Dead Poets Society-inspired English teacher). But when Nate’s haven, the youth centre, risks shutting down, a sense of rebellion starts to take form.
With This Is How We Change the Ending, Vikki Wakefield crafts an examination of violence, stunted masculinity and class disparity that’s as complex as any literary novel but made more immediate through its intensely personal first person narration. Your heart breaks for Nate as he stubbornly refuses to hope, for fear of disappointment, even as you root for him to break the cycle. In much of YA literature, that in-between stage of late adolescence is about the widening of potential, but here, the all-too-real fear of opportunities closing to you as financial reality hits is ever present. Leavened by Nate’s wry wit and soulful insights, however, this never comes across as hopeless or grim – just honest.
With its emotional realism, This Is How We Change the Ending feels like an Australian Friday Night Lights: the hazy washed-out glare of a small town, the slightly aimless wandering nights, and the ultimately uplifting message. I’m not sure what we did right to deserve a writer as fine as Wakefield, who captures the bruised vulnerability and tremulous potential of youth with so much honesty and power. Those who had their hearts wrenched by her previous books, Friday Brown and Inbetween Days, should prepare themselves for another spin through the emotional wringer. For ages 15+.