In the ocean of supernatural teenage fiction it is a huge relief to wash up against something truly original.
Some will be disappointed, others thrilled to know Leanne Hall's debut novel for young adults is entirely vampire-free. There is a hint of werewolf, but that's where the resemblance to any of the current crop of angsty, bitey teen fiction ends.
Hall's star-crossed lovers are social misfits Wildgirl and Wolfboy, who's a tad hairier than the average teen and fond of a good howl. Their eyes meet across the crowded bar of the Diabetic Hotel in Shyness, a surreal no-man's land where the sun never rises and marauding gangs of Kidds whacked on sugar terrorise the streets with the help of creepy, trained tarsiers.
Wildgirl dares Wolfboy to show her his neighbourhood and during one long night they get to know each other, while getting into all kinds of trouble.
Hall never explains how Shyness came to be swathed in darkness, or any of the other strange things that happen here. Knowing why it's dark would merely distract you from these two interesting characters. As Wolfboy says: "I don't bother thinking about the reasons; I just deal with it. If you don't like the Darkness, leave." That Darkness does, however, give Hall's characters a reason for other pithy comments like: "Take me to where the night starts".
The lack of a wider backstory means the focus stays sharply on Wildgirl and Wolfboy. For all the strangeness, this is a nicely observed and well crafted story of what it means to be a teenage misfit - alienation, surging hormones, rebellion, it's all here in a story more appealing than most, though the world is stranger, darker and more repellent.
This is Shyness, which won Australia's 2009 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing, perfectly captures that heady "it's you and me against the world" feeling of young love and physical attraction, and the memory of one epic night on which it seems, at the time, your future spins.
It is sharply, sparsely written - a nice reminder that 270 pages of good writing can be much more affecting than trilogies of turgid melodrama. This is darker and sexier than your average teen fiction and, for all it's weirdness, much more realistic.