Rose By Any Other Name
by Maureen McCarthy
Published by Allen and Unwin
344 pages, 2006
Would It Smell As Sweet?
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
All of Maureen McCarthy’s novels for young adults are different, though, in the end, they all seem to be about family, whether it is about the family relationships of the three young heroines of Queen Kat, Carmel and St. Jude Get a Life, and their first year away from home, or the girl who finds out, in When You Wake And Find Me Gone, that her older sister is actually her mother and her father is an IRA bomber.
McCarthy's characters always seem to have more than the usual teenage woes. It’s not about boyfriends -- well, not the usual boyfriend woes, anyway, of which more presently. It’s not about who is friends with whom or who let whom down at school. It’s not even about whether your parents have had a divorce, though that does happen sometimes, including in this novel. McCarthy creates characters you can care about.
Rose By Any Other Name is largely a road story. In it, Rose O’Neil and her mother are driving from Melbourne to the Victorian coastal town of Port Fairy to see Rose’s dying grandmother one last time. Along the way, through flashbacks, Rose remembers the last time she was travelling this way -- and why her best friend is no longer talking to her. Rose knows that she was in the wrong, but has her own troubles.
For starters, after a long and seemingly-perfect marriage, her father, a social justice lawyer, has suddenly announced he’s leaving his wife and family. Her mother has gone into a fit of depression and Rose and her sisters have no idea how to handle it. And, yes, Rose’s best friend, Zoe, appears to be making a play for a guy Rose considers to be hers, though this is not what the novel’s main issue turns out to be. What Zoe has done to Rose is nothing at all compared with what Rose ends up doing to Zoe, without intending any harm.
In the end, like Maureen McCarthy’s other books, Rose By Any Other Name is about family, although Rose’s relationship with Zoe is sorted out. Fatherhood is an issue, discussed by comparing the different fathers in the book -- Rose’s father, who has abandoned his family for a younger woman, is one type of father. Although what Rose really wants is to get her father back, and she is able to find sympathy for him towards the end, he is really not a sympathetic character.
Zoe’s father, it seems, has always had affairs with young women -- including Rose. He hasn’t had to leave his family to get what he wants. It probably serves him right when Rose more or less stalks him.
Then there is Travis, the hitchhiker picked up by Rose and her mother on the way to Port Fairy. He is coarse, chain-smoking, obnoxious, but arguably the only decent father in the book. He has come from Sydney to look after his son, whose mother is dying, hitching when his car and money are stolen, and ends up changing his own life for his son’s benefit.
McCarthy doesn’t preach at her readers, though. She just tells her story and lets the reader think about it. Her characters aren’t perfect; you sometimes want to shake them, but you care about them. Rose is such a character. By the end of the novel, she has come to understand that life isn’t perfect either, but she can handle it.
Another fine book from one of Australia’s best young adult novelists. | January 2007
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.