Future Leaders of Nowhere, Emily O’Beirne (2017)
Note: We don’t give star-ratings. We review in order to encourage the development of AusQueerYA, by deconstructing the good and the bad bits, to learn and grow as writers.
‘“Finn’s solid. Not in body, but in being. She’s gravity and kindness and all those good things that anchor.”
“Willa’s confusing. Sometimes she’s this sweet, sensitive thing. Other times she’s like a flaming arrow that you hope isn’t coming for you.”
Hand-picked by their schools to attend a leadership camp in the middle of nowhere, Finn and Willa are the only two girls leading teams in the camp’s survival game. Stuck with a group of highly under-enthusiastic over-achievers, the confident, forthright Finn suddenly feels lost. Mean-while, ambitious scholarship student Willa is realising she’s never really stopped achieving to discover the kind of person she wants to be.
As the two girls initially clash, they slowly discover not only mutual ground and trust, but something deeper between them. And maybe a way to win, too.’
Emily O’Beirne is well established Own Voices Queer YA author and it shows. Her work is tight, entertaining and doesn’t shy away from its Queer-ness.
The characters in Future Leaders are stellar. It is really refreshing to see a f/f relationship where the two characters are actually individuals. Finn and Willa are neither exactly alike, nor are they total opposites which is what often happens in novels with same-sex couples. The things they do have in common are used by O’Beirne to strengthen their relationship and are written in such a way that I didn’t get the sense that they were just being a lazy writer. The details in the characterisation of both of the leads, and most of the supporting characters are well thought out.
The secondary characters are diverse, strong, weird and wonderful. I especially liked the representations of the various faces of feminism, with Amy, Amira, Eva, Hana and Zaki (as well as Finn and Will) all having moments where they face sexism and deal with it in different, but ultimately positive and powerful ways. One really awesome part was where Amy and Amira go head to head and you start to wonder if we’re about to get some lecture on how to be a good feminist, but then it all just kind of dissolves into this ‘there’s no one single way to be a ‘good’ feminist’ and it’s refreshingly chill.
The Queer love story between Finn and Willa develops fairly realistically in my opinion. It has a bit of that ‘holiday romance’ kind of vibe to it, where everything is a little more magical and exciting than it would have been if they were at home, but I think that works for YA, because most romantic sub plots have this element. The sneaking around thing worried me for a bit, like there was going to be an after-school special on homophobia coming up, but when their relationship is revealed to the rest of the characters, everyone is just quietly awed. Mega props to O’Beirne for writing it like that. You cannot have two kick-ass females (which is how Finn and Willa are presented, not just to the readers, but to the other characters as well) suddenly be reduced to ridicule for hooking up. It made way more sense that everyone just became even MORE intimidated by how kick-ass these two girls appear.
To Be Improved:
Most of these things are more ‘Tiny Problems’ than major pitfalls, but I’ll elaborate here anyways. The main issue I had with this book was the changing POV. I understand this is personal to me as a reader and is a legitimate writing style enjoyed by many others. The main problem it held for me was the timing of it. The first half of the novel is from Finn’s POV and leads right up to the first major make-out scene between Finn and Willa. Most of the second half directly following this scene is Willa’s POV, with a small section from each of the girls again at the end. What frustrated me about this was we learnt a lot of about Finn’s inner thoughts navigating her crush on Willa and figuring out her own stuff, but before we can truly get to know her, we are in Willa’s head. From that point on we learn a lot about how Willa feels post making out with Finn, but we don’t really understand how she got there. This book is the first in a series though, so I’m hoping we fill in some of the blanks in the future, but I really want to know what was going through Finn’s head after that kiss, because all we get from is Willa noticing how deep in thought and concerned Finn looks all the time.
Drew as the arch-nemesis character was verging on cliché territory. There was an attempt at the end to make him less of a brainless douche-bag and more of a super-genius douche-bag who just wants to watch the world burn, but still. He sort of got what was coming to him, but A LOT of the stuff the other characters did was because of him and I kind wish they had just ignored him and done their own thing, but again this was pretty minor.
The setting for the novel was cool and made it a lot easier to throw random plot twists in, but I’m not sure stuff like this actually happens. Though some kids in my high-school went to Space Camp in America, so maybe this idea isn’t so far fetched, even if it does sound a bit dodgy.
Even though Emily O’Beirne has written many Queer YA’s, the blurb still makes the f/f romance seem like a spoiler.
When Finn and Willa’s romance is revealed in the book, there is a typical and annoying discussion about what bisexuality means. It’s handled well, like Finn basically just tells the dude to shut up, but did we really need that conversation to appear at all? Maybe. At least this novel uses the phrase ‘bisexual’ openly and not some sort of dancing around the point ‘confused/experimenting’ thing. And it was from Craig, who up until this point has been portrayed as a pretty cool and down to earth guy, but now I slightly hate him. He does let it go after Finn tells him to, but come on man, keep up.
I didn’t really get the whole thing with Finn’s dad or why it was relevant at all, but maybe that’s going to be explored more in Book 2.
Overall, an great example of Queer female YA characters and enough substance within the novel to make for an excellent read. Looking forward to reading the next instalment All the Ways to Here, out later this year.