By Jennifer Platt for The Sunday Times
“Teenagers can be bastards,” says Sally-Ann Partridge referring to the fact that when kids act on their revenge fantasies they have no clue that their actions come with serious consequences. This formed the basis of her novel Sharp Edges. “Kids do ridiculously stupid things just because they can. This is where the darkness comes in with most of my stories. Bad things happen. Kids do bad things. I wanted to write about the repercussions of those actions without being preachy.”
A slim book, Sharp Edges is definitely not preachy – just punchy. Demi Crowley is super-excited to celebrate her seventeenth birthday with her five best friends at a music festival in Ceres. Instead of it being the party she hopes for, it becomes the place where she dies horrifically. This leaves every one of her friends feeling angry, grief stricken and guilty, with one of them hiding a terrible secret. “I set the book back to front so the reader knows what happens first, and that it was the result of someone’s action. Grief is an awful thing.”
Each character has a chapter. There’s Ashley, who goes to live with her mother in Johannesburg as she can’t face her friend’s funeral; Verushka, who dangerously seeks comfort from a virtual stranger; Siya, who is coming to terms with his homosexuality; James, who is blamed for Demi’s death and refuses to acknowledge his own demons; and Damien, Demi’s boyfriend, who feels like he cannot live without her, but really didn’t know her.
“There’s no voice of reason among any of them,” says Sally. “There’s no one character that says this is wrong. There are sharp edges to all their stories. And by writing in the first person, the idea is that teens will recognise themselves in the book and work out for themselves what to do.”
It’s a matter of showing and not telling. “Demi is a party animal; she doesn’t care about anything other than having a good time. And a direct result of that is that she died. Accidents do happen and people die.”
It’s a compelling collection of lost, lonely souls – something that Sally can relate to. Her family lived with her gran, who was very strict. As an only child, she grew up watching the kids play in the street, feeling left out as she was not allowed to join them. Instead, she spent her time sitting in the garden on the swing that her dad made, coming up with stories and adventures. She discovered the novels of Stephen King, whose characters made a major impact on her imagination. And you can see that in her writing. Her book – which is her fourth for the young adult market – is called Sharp Edges because each of her characters’ lives are imperfect and jagged. “It’s a book about grief, about perception, about not really knowing your friends and it’s pummelling towards this very ugly ending. Kids are fearless when it comes to death… it ends on a sharp note.” – @Jenniferdplatt