A review by Nalini Haynes
Five students are condemned to an extra-curricular project at their elite Sydney private school: they’re on the yearbook committee. Only one, Gillian, wants to be there and she’s unpopular.
Charlie moved to Sydney because her step-dad wanted to go home; she’s counting the months until she can move back to Melbourne. Tammi’s friend Lauren bullied her into the committee so Lauren could control the yearbook’s content. Matty is the scholarship kid whose mom is mentally ill so he’s trying to support them both financially by working two jobs while completing his final year of high school. Ryan is the school captain whose extra-curricular activity used to be soccer but he broke his knee so he can’t play any more; hence he’s condemned to this purgatory.
Like the Breakfast Club, these misfits experience the year together, gradually building friendships and even a romance but, over it all, hangs a shadow. Thanks to the opening sequence, the reader knows that one of their lives hangs in the balance after an end-of-year party ends tragically.
The story is told in snippets from each point of view, either as action in first person point of view or as Gillian’s meetings’ minutes. Much of the year is glossed over, leaving the reader to join the dots. This is an advantage because the story is sharp and shiny, not bogged down in angst or detail in spite of each student having their own issues including Matt’s home situation and girls cyber-bullying Gillian.
However, I was confused by switching points of view with everyone referring to themselves as ‘I’. I kept orienting myself by referring to the beginning of the chapter, where it indicates the current ‘I’; this was distracting.
The Yearbook Committee‘s cover has an image of a camera that looks like a relic from the 1970s, which is misleading. The story is current, with students using mobiles, Gillian blogging about being a politician’s daughter and a bully passive-aggressively — or just plain aggressively — commenting on social media statuses.
Although The Yearbook Committee passes the Bechdel Test — girls talk to one another about things other than boys and Charlie is an outspoken feminist — characters are mostly white. Non-whites are only minor characters. This could be a reflection of the demographic of elite Sydney private schools but it’s a concern if staff didn’t assign a non-white for representation on the yearbook committee. Author Sarah Ayoub’s debut novel Hate is such a strong word is about a Lebanese girl so Ayoub is possibly trying to avoid being stereotyped as a one-issue author.
Sammy, Gillian’s younger brother, represents the disabled community as a person with Down’s Syndrome. Sammy is likeable but he’s patronized and dismissed by most people; the yearbook committee gets “puppy points” (we know they’re good people) because they look after Sammy.
Overall, The Yearbook Committee stands out as a feminist read with Charlie’s rants, the other girls learning to assert themselves, standing up to bullies and members taking control of their lives. As a group and as individuals, the yearbook committee members develop, ready to face the next phase of their lives after graduating from high school. Highly recommended.
PS Where is the yearbook? I wanted to at least see the last couple of pages added at the last minute. I FEEL GIPPED. ROBBED. ROBBED, I SAY.
Rating: 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
ISBN 10: 0732296854
Format: paperback, 336 pages