Reviewed by Rod McLary
We were all fourteen-year-old teenagers once, and most of us – even when we don’t particularly want to – can remember what being fourteen was like. Negotiating the complexities of relationships outside our families, establishing a place in school, let alone addressing the whole new world of sexuality and gender – were all challenges which needed to be faced and possibly met. Of course, there were always some who managed to be both successful and cool and who left the rest of us in the shade.
This new book by Gabriel Bergmoser with the intriguing title of The True Colour of a Little White Lie sets out a few months in the life of one fourteen-year-old boy as he desperately seeks to ‘to enter that elite club everybody wanted to be a part of’ . The ‘elite club’ comprises those people with girlfriends and Nelson – the protagonist – would like Madison as his girlfriend. Nelson might be ‘a skinny, weird loser’ but he was determined to ask Madison to go out with him.
From this point, which unfortunately for Nelson did not work out too well, the warm-hearted and engrossing tale of Nelson and his romantic adventures gradually unfold. Nelson may be seen by some of his classmates as ‘a skinny, weird loser’ but he is really a smart, intelligent and sometimes witty protagonist. He may have a nemesis at school – called Dale Dickson – who calls him names and frequently refers to an episode involving a Skittle and a hole in a pocket [which needs to be read to be fully appreciated] but he can ski well.
Nelson lives with his parents in Snow Point and attends the local high school. His best friend Pat has moved away to attend school in the capital so Nelson is largely friendless. When his parents take over the running of a nearby ski lodge, he sees an opportunity to escape school and its humiliations at least for the weekends. There may even be an opportunity to find a girlfriend.
In a relaxed and natural style, the author – using the first person – reveals Nelson’s thoughts and emotions as he faces the usual trials of adolescence. When staying at the ski lodge, Nelson develops friendships with a few of the twenty-somethings on staff who may or may not be good influences on him. But isn’t that also a challenge in adolescence – from whom do you accept guidance; whose advice is in your best interests? One of the enjoyable aspects of the novel is how Nelson gradually comes to his own conclusions about what he is being told and what will be the correct and appropriate way to proceed.
Along the way, there are subtle messages about how to treat other people, how girls also have insecurities and uncertainties, and how sometimes even adults struggle with their relationships. Parents – of the teenage protagonists – are also present as extras to the main action and the author captures well the sometimes fraught and conflicted relationships between parents and their children particularly the emotional push and pull as the adolescent moves towards adulthood and freedom.
In the Acknowledgements, the author says that the book is ‘not quite autobiographical, but not entirely fiction either’. The reader can well believe this as the novel contains an air of authenticity which cannot be faked.
Pitched at the 14+ cohort of readers, the novel will certainly meet their expectations. It is witty with a gentle humour, it covers the issues many teenagers are concerned about – parental control, relationships, getting a girl/boyfriend, dealing with school issues, and concerns about their futures – and it is well-written. It is a book which parents can confidently give to their teenagers knowing that it will offer an acknowledgement of their issues and some positive guidance for the rocky road ahead. It is also an enjoyable and well-constructed read.
Gabriel Bergmoser is an award-winning Melbourne-base author and playwright. He has won the prestigious Sir Peter Ustinov Television Scriptwriting Award in 2015 and was nominated for the 2017 Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing. His first young adult novel Boone Shepard was shortlisted for the Readings Young Adult Prize in 2016.
The True Colour of a Little White Lie
by Gabriel Bergmoser
ISBN 978 1 4607 5909 7