I heard author Kay Kerr read an extract from her debut novel Please Don’t Hug Me (Text 2020) before it was published, at an Avid Reader event for author Graeme Simsion. She read the part about driving (straight through) a roundabout during a driving test and it was hilarious. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to read the whole book, because it’s a fantastic young adult novel about grief, finding your way, autism, being different, families and emotions. It’s all the feels.

Erin is finishing Year 12 and looking forward (maybe?) to Schoolies. But she’s lost her job, her driving test went badly (see above) and her ‘boyfriend’ is not great. On top of all that, her older brother Rudy left a year ago and she misses him terribly. The novel is a series of letters from Erin to Rudy, as she pours out her heart to him, tries to make sense of him being gone, and wishes desperately he would return to the family.

It is through this practice of letter-writing that Erin is able to articulate many of the feelings and emotions she has had trouble talking about in person. And as she writes about her experiences, her choices, her responses and the subsequent repercussions of her actions, her life begins to make a little more sense.

Please Don’t Hug Me is a wonderful addition to Aussie YA literature and will resonate with so many adolescents searching for their identity, trying to fit in, and attempting to work out how they want to be, and to be seen, in the world. And it is a gentle and tender meditation on grief.

Kay Kerr’s second novel is already out and now I can’t wait to read it.