17 YO Kai lives on the streets. The night Rod, his 12 YO autistic brother, comes looking for him, the two steal, crash a car and die. Searching for Rod, Kai finds himself in Hades where he meets dead Bilby-G. As their adventures continue, these youngsters are magically transformed to what they were before Kai became a street-boy and Bilby G. became anorexic. In their efforts to find Rod, the youngsters come across some of the mythical characters as described by Kai’s Greek grandmother before she died: a multi-headed dog. A blind prophet. Twin whirlpools. Three goddesses. A dangerous sea-nymph. The powerful sea-god and his evil one- eyed son.
(This novel’s journey consisting of 47 poems that trace their journey through the underworld) is based on some of the mythical creatures from Homer’s “Odyssey”
‘In Hades’ a verse novel.
Reviewed by David Campbell.
Homer’s Odyssey might seem an odd choice as the basis for a story written for young adults, but if that classic poem were to be described as the original ‘road movie’ then what Goldie Alexander has achieved with her verse novel In Hades suddenly begins to make a lot of sense. Over the years there have been many famous road movies, from our own Mad Max and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to the likes of Hollywood’s Easy Rider, Thelma and Louise, Rain Man, and Little Miss Sunshine.
That’s a fairly mixed bag, but the common thread throughout is the journey undertaken by the central characters, a journey of discovery and self-revelation. Alexander has explored the complex notion of redemption though the adventures of Kai, a 17-year-old boy who, in a daring plot-twist, dies at the very beginning of the story when he crashes a stolen car. Kai’s younger brother Rod, who is autistic, is also killed in the crash, and it is Kai’s search for Rod in Hades that leads him to encounter all manner of monsters and physical challenges that have to be overcome.
But In Hades is not just a gripping adventure tale, it’s also a love story, for Kai meets up with the anorexic Bilby-G, and their journey together becomes one of mutual self-discovery.
This is an ambitious project, and one of the keys to its success is the poetry, for Alexander has effectively managed the difficult feat of marrying the action (and the romance) to the rhythms and cadences of the verse. The book is not one poem, but 49 of them, each with its own distinctive structure and voice. So we begin with the dramatically brief opening (The Accident), which scatters words on the page as we might imagine the shattered wreckage of the car strewn across the road, and then moves to the more tightly structured, yet still confused, second poem (After!), in which Kai comes to the realisation that he is dead.
Bilby-G arrives on the scene in poem 15 (Meeting Bilby-G), but before then we have learnt something of Kai’s troubled background, most of his problems arising after his step-father walks out (he doesn’t know his biological father) and takes up with another woman who rejects the two boys. Kai’s experiences during this time will resonate with quite a few young people and provide a useful basis for discussion, the poem titles alone striking a chord…for example Sleeping Out, Street Kids, and No Fixed Address.
The rest of the book follows Kai and Bilby-G as they are, in a sense, reborn, rediscovering the people they were before their lives went downhill. We learn what brought Bilby-G to this point, and begin to see the degree of guilt that haunts both of them and the truth that has to be faced, best summed up by an old man they meet along the way who tells them that they must seek forgiveness and then forgive themselves if they are to find peace. The physical challenges they encounter, which include a dangerous sea voyage involving whirlpools, sea nymphs (shades of Ulysses and the Sirens) and, finally, a one-eyed monster, provide the means to this end.
The book operates on several levels. Firstly, there’s the “What happens next?” element of the story itself, finding out who (and what) Kai and Bilby-G meet, and how they react. Then there’s the background, the events that led up to their deaths and the sort of people they were…there’s ample material for debate in the way they interacted with their families and the understanding they eventually come to about that. And finally there’s the poetry itself, with the multitude of formats providing the stimulus for discussion about the use of language and poetic structure to enhance the ancient art of story-telling.
This last, for me, is the most interesting, but that won’t be the case for everyone. Responses to poetry are, naturally, very subjective, and the challenge for those unfamiliar with the genre will be to come to some understanding of what the writer is trying to do. That doesn’t mean universal agreement, of course, and there are certainly some sections that I would have tackled differently, but that is where verse can add an extra dimension to the tale being told. There is considerable value, and much to be learned, in teasing out the various techniques employed and looking at possible alternatives. That not only enhances appreciation, but prompt readers to take an interest in having a go for themselves.
The inventive use of language is a powerful instrument, and I recommend In Hades as something out of the ordinary that should provide an excellent source of stimulating material for a variety of young adult readers.
David Campbell is a nationally recognized writer. He divides his time between poetry (both traditional and free verse), short stories, and newspaper articles.
A novel written in verse is a good way to introduce teenage readers to poetry, especially if the plot and issues are relevant to this age group. In Hades by Goldie Alexander is a good example of a verse novel that will reach young readers as it combines colloquial and poetic language. Based loosely around Homer’s ancient epic, The Odyssey, the story involves Kai, a homeless boy and Bilby G, an anorexic girl. The two find themselves flung together in the underworld, in a series of dramatic, after-death experiences, with goddesses, a sea nymph and other strange, myth-like creatures. These dramatic events lead to some self revelation by the central characters and this is the purpose of the narrative. If the cover design doesn’t frighten you, or draw you in, the inside pages just might.
English Teacher and Reviewer.
Review: In Hades from Kids Book Reviews
In Hades is the new fantasy YA verse novel written by the talented and successful Australian author Goldie Alexander. YA verse novels have become increasingly popular and successful in Australia and overseas. As Goldie expressed in her guest post on KBR on 27 October, “we live in an age where more people are being published but fewer have time to read”. So, what better way to reach young adult, reluctant and male readers than to write a condensed (In Hades is 15,000 words) and engaging novel?
The first short chapter draws the reader in with a fast description of a car accident. Seventeen-year-old Kai is killed. He’s a street kid who steals a car to go on a joyride with his autistic younger brother Rod who also dies. From there, the story takes up in Hades, an in-between place in the afterlife that will determine Kai’s fate.
Whilst anxious about the whereabouts of his brother, he meets an anorexic girl who initially doesn’t speak. He names her Bilby.G after the bilby tattoo on her shoulder. They encounter an old blind man who tells them they are in Hades, the isle of the dead, and they must seek forgiveness for their earthly deeds before their souls will rest in peace.
Kai and Bilby.G lived unhappily and tormented and died prematurely and perhaps unfairly. They embark on a journey through Hades, overcoming Odyssean adventures and obstacles whilst learning to forgive others and themselves.
Alexander has woven their experience with parallels of the sea journey Ulysses, in Homer’s epic poem Ulysses, took on his way home to Ithaca. Kai’s Greek grandmother had told him epic tales of the creatures in Ulysses’ adventures that Kai must now confront. Kai and Bilby.G learn to show courage, strength, love and forgiveness – attributes they lacked before they died. It’s also about taking responsibility for their actions and redemption.
The characters of Kai and Bilby.G are convincing. They were risk-taking, self-centred teenagers before their somewhat unexpected deaths, unaware of the effect their actions had on others.
Although the setting of Hades is magical and fictional, the growth of the characters whilst in Hades, their feelings and emotions, are realistic and have the reader caring about their destinies. The setting has a surreal aura about it and the reader feels as if they too are navigating the mystical sense of place that is akin to shifting sands.
The plot addresses serious issues and themes presented in poetic form and layout, giving the text a fluidity and continuity that keeps the reader engrossed. Each of the continuing 49 chapters are individually formatted, maintaining reader interest and simplifying the layout.
Unlike prose, the poetic language in the verse is tight and cleverly honed so it resonates and delivers the required impact, especially in chapter one.
Serious issues such as drug use, family breakdown and rejection, eating disorders, disability and self-harm are skillfully woven into the storyline without being too overpowering, yet they are able to capture the essence of the characters’ back stories and current journey. The darker issues are balanced with the possibility of hope, romance, trust and forgiveness.
In Hades is a lovely novel and has much to teach teenagers about the journey of life and the consequences of choices made.
by Susan Whelan
In Hades by Goldie Alexander, illustrated by Aaron Pocock (Celapene Press)
Kai’s family is fractured. So is he. With his parents’ separation all his high achievements mean nothing. He sinks into a world of despair. Drugs and every other kind of abuse possible is called on to try and block out what once was. It is on a bad day that he steals the car. The worst part is that his autistic brother Rod is with him when it crashes.
The story is about what happens to Kai’s soul after the crash and what he needs to do to redeem himself, to allow it to rest in peace. His quest through the underworld to find Rod is filled with guilt, determination, pain and discovery. He meets another lost soul, whom he names Bilby-G. An anorexic, she too, is on the same journey through guilt, and together they slowly come to terms with what it is they’re facing.
Alexander uses her knowledge of Greek myths and characters with great skill to incorporate allusions to accent her main characters’ challenges and struggles.
This outstanding verse novel could be seen as Goldie Alexander’s best piece of work yet. Even the positioning of the text upon the page is done with careful consideration. This device contributes tremendously to the overall effect on the reader’s impression of what is being shown. The fine-line, black and white illustrations by Aaron Pocock, perfectly complement the text.
Themes that flow through the work are those of self-discovery, family, trust, love, and forgiveness: of others and their human weaknesses, but mostly of oneself.
by Anastasia Gonis
ISBN 978-0-9750742-6-8 (pbk)
ISBN 978-0-9750742-5-1 (ebook)