I’ll declare my prejudices up front. I'm a fan of Australian Young Adult fiction and I hadn’t read Pip Harry’s debut novel debut novel, I’ll Tell You Mine, so on one hand I was keen to read Head of the River but on the other hand, I am so not into boats.
I decided to read it regardless and I’m glad I did. It’s a testament to the storytelling and to the character development that I sat up all night reading until it was finished.
I’m still not interested in boats but I found myself fascinated by the Head of the River challenge and the political and social issues surrounding it as seen through the eyes of the Popescu twins, Leni and Cristian.
With Olympic oarsman parents, expectation and destiny is written in their genes. Cristian is the more gifted rower but he doesn’t have the commitment or determination to succeed that comes so naturally to Leni. He struggles, with training and fitness, and when everything starts to unravel, he is drawn to the easy solution performance-enhancing drugs offer.
For Leni, rowing has always been foremost but now she is finding to be the best rower, she also needs to be a good friend and team player.
For me, the strength of this novel is in the characters and their relationships - the emotion, the maturing, the problems that arise and are resolved. The Head of the River race is the perfect setting to explore competitiveness and expectation and the risk-taking and soul-searching this can engender.
I found a touch of irony in the ending and I loved it.
Reviewed by Sandy Fussell
Title: Head of the River
Author: Pip Harry
Publisher: UQP $19.95 RRP
Publication Date: July 2014
Type: Young Adult Fiction