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Review: Six by Karen Tayleur

six karen tayleur Review: Six by Karen Tayleur

Cautionary tales are common in YA literature: its painfully common to read a book in which consequences are painted with astonishing conservatism. Whether this is in part to cater to the library market, which wields considerable power in the success of any given YA, whether its to knowingly wag a finger at those naughty younguns, or whether its something that simply rises to the surface like the fats on a broth (and, like the fats on a broth, better done away with, in my opinion), Im not entirely sure, but there is an undeniable undercurrent of Lessons Learned in a good deal of YA. But not, of course, all YA. Some of the more challenging, thoughtful young adult literature Ive read this year deals unflinchingly with situations so challenging that many authors writing on similar themes for adults might prefer to step back, to let a curtain fall, a door close rather than deal with these viscerally powerful issues. These novels simply present the reader with a situation, allowing the reader themselves to determine where the balance of the scales should fall.

Karen Tayleurs Six aspires to be one such novel. Set in the leafy haven of Silver Valley, it traces six months in the life of a group of Year 12 students who share between them a horrific secret. The milieu is such that it reminds me rather strongly of Shirley Marrs Fury, which I reviewed a few weeks ago: a rather disparately cobbled together group of teens whose sense of whats right is subjugated to their preference to live in the now, to live in the future. Like Marrs book, theres a chilling amorality to Tayleurs characters, but in this case the effect is all the more disturbing for the fact that the characters are drawn so humanely. Where Marr very deliberately twists and torments her characters into a truly horrific manifestation of anger and vengeance, Tayleur does the opposite, setting out to contrast her characters hopeful, dream-like outlooks with their actions. Where Marrs characters act in a way that is nothing but cruelly appropriate to their tortured psyches, Tayleurs efforts highlight a desperation to maintain the status quo, to continue to follow the paths her characters have spent their lives creating.


Sarah Lums friend Poppy, all loose flowing skirts, psychic auras, and abjectly hopeless romantic, tells Sarah one day that she doesnt see a career in medicine in Sarahs future. Sarahs consternation at this is palpable: an off-the-cuff remark when she was a child has set her on the path to being a doctor, and without this path, this goal to strive for, she sees herself as lost, shallow, directionless. The others in Tayleurs unlikely posse are similarly so, having picked out their future careers and lives with the sort of single-minded determination only seen in teens. So when they find themselves in a situation that could very easily cripple these plans, shred the identities theyve spent their lives thus far developing, they do everything in their power to avoid acknowledging their responsibilities. The simple pragmatism with which they do so is astounding, and plays on the readers mind all the more as months pass and these teens lives are filled with inanities like Year 12 formals, ridiculous live triangles, and an utter obsession with earning their probationary licences. The contrast between the awful secret theyre hiding and these frivolities grows more and more stark, until a truly startling twist balances the scales in a way that brings fascinating cohesion to what has been a somewhat piecemeal plot. Tayleurs characters are indeed judged in a way, but its not by the author, and Im quite fascinated by the way Tayleur manages to pull off such a twist, with its accompanying framing device , so effortlessly. Theres a karmic sense of justice here on some level, but in a way that stems from the characters inaction rather than their actions, and which is coincidental rather than premeditated, ameliorating that sense of authorial judgement that could otherwise be an issue.

My thoughts

While thematically the book, like Marrs, is extremely strong, it does struggle to find a sense of cohesion at times. The reader is given the sense that the book will engage a multiple, rotating point-of-view format, but the end result is more of a single point-of-view narrative (Sarahs), interspersed with the occasional interlude from one of the other characters. This tends to be quite ineffective, as its as though Tayleur is unsure of her ability to get across the information she needs using a sole narrator, and must hammer home the point using another instead. As such, the multiple perspectives tend to feel as though theyre being used to shovel back-story and titillating bits of information in the readers direction. Overall, unfortunately, the development of the characters is somewhat rudimentary, with many of the characters fitting firmly into archetypes and not much beyond that. This is worsened by a chapter that comprises simply the various characters yearbook entries: the inclusion of this makes the reader feel as though there is concern that essential information isnt being conveyed via the narrative, and thus needs to be explicated for good measure.

One other element I struggled with somewhat was the setting of the book. Despite having the odd element that was quintessentially Australian, I couldnt help but feel as though the book had been deliberately set in a sort of territorial no-mans-land in order to cater better to the American market, which is (anecdotally, Ill say, to save my neck) notoriously averse to regionalisms and other elements that may result in confusion or a sense of the too exotic for its readers. Ive found this issue arising quite often with much of the local YA Ive read this year, and its something that I now find difficult not to notice as a reader. While Im certainly not advocating a descent into parochialisms, ockers, and strine, I would prefer to see setting taken as something thats essential to the work, rather than something that can be disaggregated seemingly with ease.


These criticisms aside, Tayleurs Six is tautly written, and offers some truly chilling food for thought. At a mere two hundred pages, it certainly punches well above its weight, and the twist at the end will no doubt have many a reader in paroxysms of Six Sense-ish delight.

Rating: star Review: Six by Karen Tayleurstar Review: Six by Karen Tayleurstar Review: Six by Karen Tayleurblankstar Review: Six by Karen Tayleurblankstar Review: Six by Karen Tayleur

With thanks to Black Dog Books for the review copy.

Other books by Karen Tayleur:

hostage karen tayleur Review: Six by Karen Tayleur
chasing boys tayleur Review: Six by Karen Tayleur


  1. I would like to read Six. Your feelings about the point of view. Thats bad when a reader can feel that the author is taking a handy way out in order to make a point.

  2. Stephanie /

    Hi Tea, thanks for visiting! Other than the POV issue (and a few too-coincidental plot points), Six is very well written, and very thought-provoking, and I think youd enjoy it. Perhaps my issue with it was that I like a sense of symmetry in a novel (I struggled with The Empress of Ice-Cream for the same reason) rather than any sort of authorial deficiency.

    Im really impressed with the books Ive been reading from Black Dog Books this year, though. Theyre very challenging, and arent afraid to push the envelope. Its great not to be reading safe books!

  3. It really is so common that an Australian setting rarely has any real Australian flavour, not only in YA but also adult novels. As you say, I think its probably motivated by commercial considerations but I still find it dissappointing.
    Im not sure Six is really a book Id pick up having read your review but thanks for the insight

  4. Stephanie /

    Thanks for visiting, Shelley Rae. I find the weak setting a common problem in Australian fiction, but one recent read that did an Aussie setting absolutely wonderfully was Van Badhams Burnt Snow. It was so rich and detailed, and absolutely believable. Highly recommended!

  5. Sienna /

    I didnt understand the ending. Who dies?

  6. Whose funeral were they at at the end of the book??

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