Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 12, 2014

Just_a_girl (2013), by Kirsten Krauth

Just a Girl

just_a_girl is an impressive debut novel from Kirsten Krauth, former Sydneysider but now established not far from Melbourne in the thriving regional arts community at Castlemaine.  I am torn between admiration for the gritty authenticity of the main character’s voice and hoping that the author has got it wrong!

Let me explain: the story centres around Layla, 14 years old and an extreme risk-taker.  Most readers will be holding an anxious breath from her very first lines:

The guy formerly known as youami33 told me he’d be wearing a red Strokes t-shirt.  I see him from the train as it pulls in at Newcastle.  He’s not bad enough to make me run away.  But he’s older than I thought.  Old enough to be my … maybe. He looks average but also kinda sweet when he spots me.  He’s got a pretty hot bod.  His smile lights me up.  I can feel him framing me.  Sizing me up as I swing towards him.  I’m in my poxy school uniform.  (p.1)

It’s not possible to read these lines without thinking of media reports about the tragic consequences of this kind of teenage behaviour.  Every parent’s nightmare. But Layla is also funny, clever, interested in books, and alert to adult behaviour with a maturity beyond her years.

There are three narrators, each distinctive and each capturing the loneliness of contemporary life.  Margot is Layla’s mother, breathlessly hurling her desperate anxieties in a tumult of words and black humour ironies:

I’m so tired tonight it’s like the weight of the world is upon me, and sometimes it seems there’s not enough space left to feel love when everything else constantly needs doing, and if Geoff was here it would be easier but instead I woke up to the same routine, to the dishes and the washing and the cooking and a teenager who never tries to help, and on top of that I’m juggling the business, the never-ending emails and client demands and quotes that end up leading nowhere, so it was a relief to hear Pastor Bevan’s service this morning, he was talking about Intelligent Design, and I’ve really connected with the topic because I’ve always been so influenced by the way things are styled, the way they are constructed on the screen or even out my window, I mean, I really do love my work, coming up with something concrete and shaping it from a concept and the clients love it too, when their ideas are matched with mine and it works, the colours, the typography, and I think the Lord and I are alike in that way in the work we’ve chosen to do and we must both be workaholics … (p. 46)

Creating a distancing effect, Tadashi’s story is told by a detached observer: the reader finds this man lonely, vulnerable, and very alarming.

A nightmare had sent him to the computer.  He scrolled through the website trying to find the right face.  It was not the bodies so much that interested him.  He’d remembered her face as he woke up, the girl from the train.  Her name had dangled, strangled, in the air, a name he struggled to pronounce as he breathed out: too many L’s.
She had the perfect features, the ones he was searching for now.  She’d been sitting in the carriage, her legs crossed.  A small apple-shaped mouth and twinkly eyes.  He’d liked her simple tartan school uniform and t-bar shoes. He was trying to find a close match. (p. 48)

A teenage girl who seems to define herself by competitive sexual activity with boys and men who she believes she can always control; an oblivious mother fighting her own demons; and a man with a very strange obsession.  just_a_girl invokes the paradox of the age we live in: kids are always connected through social media, but are isolated and vulnerable to perils that their elders cannot fathom.

See Michelle McLaren’s review of just_a_girl at the Newtown Review of Books.  Michelle also blogs at  Book to the Future, where she chose just_a_girl as one of her favourites for 2013.  Also check out Dawn Barker’s I’ll Show You Mine if You’ll Show Me Yours – such an interesting concept, two authors reviewing each other’s books. Dawn Barker is the author of Fractured, now on my radar too.

There are more excerpts from just_a_girl at Julie Proudfoot’s blog, with links to an interview with the author as well, and Julie has also written a long form review at Tincture Journal, deconstructing just how cleverly this novel has been written.  Julie’s review is essential reading for contemporary readers and writers who are interested in innovation.

Kirsten Krauth blogs at Wild Colonial Girl.

Author: Kirsten Krauth
Title: just_a_girl
Publisher: UWAP (University of Western Australia Press), 2013
ISBN: 9781742584959
Source: Review copy courtesy of UWAP.


Fishpond: Just-A-Girl
Or direct from UWAP.


  1. This sounds like kind of a wild book, a situation that would not appear to be healthy.


    • No indeed, and it is a bleak view of C21st century urban life.


  2. […] Lisa Hill has just posted an excellent review of just_a_girl. […]


  3. This sounds intriguing Lisa, I will definitely try to search this out. It seems it will be disquieting though for the mother of a young teenager.


    • HI Louise, yes, I think it will be, but it’s ‘good to know’ too. I feel as if I’ve had some illusions smashed.


  4. […] always nice to discover a new author, and as you can see from my review of just_a_girl, debut author Kirsten Krauth has a promising […]


  5. […] Lisa Hill reviewed just_a_girl at ANZ LitLovers and found it to be an ‘impressive debut novel’. […]


  6. […] at ANZLitLovers also liked the […]


  7. […] For another take on this novel, please read Lisa Hill’s review on ANZ LitLovers LitBlog. […]


  8. […] The Wonders?  Where is N by John Scott, and To Name Those Lost by Rohan Wilson?  Where is just_a_girl by Kirsten Krauth?  And is it really too much to hope that the MF might think of nominating Gerald […]


  9. […] of adolescent risk-taking has already been mined, memorably in Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, (see my review) where Krauth’s character in her adolescent hubris uses internet technology to encounter the […]


  10. […] others like me will read on in appalled fascination.  The experience of reading it is not unlike Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl where the safety of a teenage girl taking frightening risks keeps a reader on tenterhooks […]


  11. […] others like me will read on in appalled fascination.  The experience of reading it is not unlike Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl where the safety of a teenage girl taking frightening risks keeps a reader on tenterhooks […]


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