Frankie Mulvaney-Webb likes Pearl Jam, playing guitar in her band and her best friend Kessie. She’s much more ambivalent on politics, especially since her mother, Rowena Mulvaney, is running for the position of Premier of Victoria in just a few weeks. That means media scrutiny, which she’s not interested in, especially since political commentator Seamus Hale seems to love hating on her mum and family. The last thing she wants is to have a student journalist, the handsome Jake, hanging around and writing about her and her band.
Of course, Frankie can’t avoid politics forever, especially as the election draws closer and photos of her mum with a mysterious young man surface. She has to figure out how to deal with the media, the other students at her school, Kessie dating someone new and of course, Jake, who gives Frankie tingles, but who might not be completely trustworthy…
One True Thing is refreshing, combining the hectic life of politics (which I haven’t read much of in young adult fiction), feminism (which comes through in a simple but not overt manner) and of course, teen life, with its crushes, its friendships and its highs and lows.
Hayes nails the teenager voice – the one full of passion but also uncertainty, where you make stupid mistakes or say the wrong thing, and then kick yourself afterwards. That teenager voice comes through loud and clear with Frankie, who is a refreshingly frank (haha) and real protagonist. The supporting cast are just as real and developed – there’s Kessie, the singer in her band, who is fiercely political and ends up in a real relationship, there’s Luke, the asthmatic little brother who loves to swim, there’s Rowena, of course, who is set to become the first elected female Victorian premier.
The political side of the novel is perfectly pitched – it’s clear that Hayes was inspired in part by Julia Gillard’s turbulent time in the Prime Minister’s office, including the occasionally vicious, often personal attacks from the media. It would be implausible to write a novel featuring a politician’s family and not show how the media factors into it all, and Hayes tackles these issues with aplomb, deftly bringing seemingly huge themes down to earth, showing their effects on a personal level.
In One True Thing, the characters, and what they go through, feel real. It even seeks to be diverse – there are several queer and questioning side characters which is brilliant, as a lot of fiction still doesn’t bother acknowledging that there is in fact an entire spectrum of sexuality. In fact, the romance between to secondary characters, in my opinion, was far more interesting than the main romance, which was pretty by the book. And more interesting than all of that was the other relationships: the bonds between family members and between friends.