“The highest of highs, and the lowest of lows”, Jess Macdonald
Kate De Goldi
Closed, Stranger by Kate De Goldi depicts the complicated friendship between Max Jackson and Andy “Westie” Westgarth. They are both entering their first year of university and must juggle relationships, school, and complicated home lives. The stress of all this often sees Max and Westie turning to drugs to forget their problems. Of course, this will have repercussions and leads to tragedy later in the novel which will inevitably change both of their lives forever.
The title, Closed, Stranger, refers to the term used to describe the practice of placing non-biologically related children with adoptive parents. Westie was adopted by a wealthy Christchurch couple, Liz and Dave Westgarth. Despite being raised by Liz and Dave from just weeks old, Westie feels as though he isn’t – nor will he ever be – their “son”. This is a constant struggle for Westie, as he feels “endless pain when that word is denied” him. This pain causes Westie to reach out to his birth mother, Vicky Crawford, and they begin seeing each other. Vicky and Westie develop an unusual mother-son relationship, more of a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. This causes drama between Liz and Westie, when she finds out and feels understandably betrayed.
After his parents got divorced, Max now lives with his younger brother Leon, and mum Dee, who resents Max’s dad’s new, younger, prettier wife, Gilly. Together they’ve just had a baby, Julia, which Max finds hard to wrap his head around.
Max and Westie’s friendship is like a rollercoaster, filled with the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows. From the beginning of the novel, it seems as though Max and Westie’s friendship relies on Max being a follower of Westie’s. Max is very suggestible, and never voices his opinions, but throughout the novel Max develops his own personality and begins standing up for himself. He starts making decisions for himself, which proves to be very important when Westie is arrested for the possession and growing of marijuana, after Max no longer wanted to take part in his “sessions” after a drug driving accident leads to the death of his beloved girlfriend, Meredith Robinson.
The expanse of characters who are introduced in a very short span of time made the story somewhat hard to follow in the beginning. However, the characters and plot become easy to follow shortly into the novel when their roles are introduced. The characters seem believable and realistic. Throughout the novel, De Goldi develops a distinct personality for each character through thorough descriptions. This helps create a better connection with the characters, which is important when trying to experience the intended emotions when tragedy strikes the character.
Overall, I enjoyed this book and would recommend it to people who enjoy De Goldi’s other books, such as The 10 pm Question. With many drug references throughout the book, as well as swearing, incest, and suicide, this is not a book for the faint-hearted. I enjoyed reading a book with a familiar setting of Christchurch and the mention of Kiwi things and places, such as Kaikoura, and bellbirds (a native New Zealand bird), which would not be referenced in the American or British books that I would typically read.
Jess Macdonald is 15 years old, from Wellington.