Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Wasted by Nicola Morgan

Wasted is a story about chance, about Jack who seeks to control it by directing his life through the toss of a coin, and about Jess who has to deal with the consequences. Oh, and it has to be one of the most nerve-jangling books I've read for a long time, though in a good way. I mean, I'm used to getting attached to characters and worrying about them, but Wasted dials that edge-of-the-seat anxiety up a notch. Why? Because not only are we shown how chance determines what is, we also get to see what could have been. And the reader has a hand in shaping both.

The driving force within Wasted is the way small seemingly unrelated moments can combine to determine the course of events, even spelling the difference between life and death. But those moments could easily have been different. What if we had arrived somewhere slightly earlier, or missed a particular phone call? What if someone glanced up and noticed something they might easily have missed? Life is shot through with What Ifs like these, but in Wasted we are given a god's eye view of this process. At two points during the book the reader is even shown the dramatic role of chance through alternative chapters, and then, at the end, it's our turn to toss a coin to decide the fates of Jack and Jess.

I must admit that I wasn't very keen to read this book. I'd got hold of the wrong idea about it and its coin-flipping peculiarity. I imagined it would be like those choose-your-own-adventure books I read as a boy. But I'm a grateful follower of the author's blog and knew this was an important title for her, so I added it to the pile. The fact that it has turned out to be one of the highlights of my reading year shouldn't really surprise me though, because I knew from Fleshmarket that Nicola Morgan writes beautifully and vividly. But to think I almost didn't read Wasted! There's a What If right there.

The voice of the narrator (and therefore the author) is very present in Wasted, and this might grate with some. But don't let it. The presence of the author at our shoulder is key to how the book works. This is a puppet show where not only can we see the puppets and their story, but also the puppeteer, and even the way the strings interact. The result is a completely engrossing reading experience -- literature in the round. Actually, it's like being invited backstage to watch the play, and is all the more fascinating for that.

It says something about how much I got caught up in the story that I took that final act of coin tossing very seriously. I was determined not to sneak a view of the alternative ending, and I still haven't. I flipped the coin and got heads, and with it the end of the story that chance dictated. Then I turned the book round and round in my hands, looking at it, as I always do when I finish something and know I'll never be quite the same again. It is, quite simply, a brilliant book.

Wasted by Nicola Morgan was published by Walker Books in 2010. Nicola's superb writing blog (soon to be a book too) is essential reading for anyone who needs help finding a publisher.


  1. I loved those choose your own ending books - I never had any but I read my brother's (He-Man ones are memorable - haha) but I like the idea of flipping a coin and having fate make the decision rather than the reader in a direct sense. I love the butterfly wing moments which lead to the tsunami events in stories, too.

    What's the age bracket for this?

    Your enthusiasm was palpable - brill review!

  2. Hi, Rachel. This is YA fiction, but really it shouldn't be pidgeon-holed as 'not for adults'. Anyone between 11 and 111 should consider getting Wasted;)

    I loved those choose-your-own-adventure books too, but I don't much fancy them now.

  3. excellent review - it's made me go directly to amazon and order the book! as if i didn't have a big enough to-read pile already!

  4. Many thanks, Candy. I'll be giving your book the same treatment once I'm back in the UK and can get hold of a copy.

  5. this is a really great review. I need to look into this book now. I`ve never been into the whole, chose your own ending thing. But... you made this sound really interesting

  6. Wow, this sounds really cool. The whole chance thing. I'm intrigued. Another book for my list!

    Thanks. Great review!

  7. Was wondering of suitability for my 9yr old...will put it on the list anyway and I can read it in the meantime :)

  8. Thanks Melissa, thanks Terry.

    Rachel, I think 9 would be a tad young, but books keep better than wine.

  9. I adore this book, I have recommended it to many readers. I love it for being so different. :)


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