Future Leaders of Nowhere by Emily O’Beirne
Published by: Ylva Publishing
Released: 15 March 2017
Read: 26 April 2017
This is my second Emily O’Beirne book, and I wish more people would discover her. Her characters are well developed, and the situations, setting, and plots are interesting and fresh. In Future Leaders of Nowhere, a collection of over-achieving high school seniors are selected to spend four weeks in a rural camp, playing leadership games and participating in outdoor activities. I’m pretty sure we have all experienced a camp like that. The first half of the book is seen through the eyes of Finn, the intermediary captain of her public school, leading the laziest and slackest group of smart kids ever, and the second part by Willa, a scholarship student at an elite private girls’ college, where the aim main is to win. There are several other groups who, while often relegated to the background, still play their part to showcase diverse and eclectic teenagers.
While the majority of the plot focuses on a game in which each group becomes a country directed to keep their people alive and their nation thriving, of course, we have additional scenes of abseiling ridiculous cliff faces, competitive orienteering and who are we kidding, everything is a competition, as well as personal relationships, pranks, and secret parties and gossip. It’s a glorious celebration of being young, and treading that fine line between following the rules and being compliant, knowing experiences like these will help for the future, and wanting to break out, live in the moment which may result in reckless behaviour, say like, oh, falling in love. Of course, it also has something to say about how much pressure there is on teenagers to strive, to excel, and to put themselves above others to succeed.
Willa and Finn’s attraction is handled with ease and care. Initially Willa acts, and it’s up to Finn to take the second step once Willa makes her feelings and intentions clear. Both girls have extraordinary talents—both clever academically, street smart (in their own ways), and filled to the brim with innate goodness. Finn is constantly described as, or told she is, kind, a person who always stands up for her beliefs, but in the first part of the book, she loses confidence in herself, and second guesses her decisions. Watching her burden the responsibility for her slack group is both fascinating and difficult. Her admiration for Willa shines through, and their friendship keeps Finn grounded. By the time we switch to Willa’s point of view, Finn has rediscovered her mojo, and for the final two weeks of the camp, she never falters in her quest to be the best leader she can be, and to prove her commitment to Willa. It’s a lovely piece of character growth.
Willa’s perspective reveals a sad backstory. Her mother died, and an absent father means she and her younger siblings live with their grandmother, who naturally is getting on and physically isn’t able to look after the two young children. Willa’s kept herself cut off from her peers, partly because she’s feels inferior and partly because she doesn’t have time to socialise. She has placed tremendous pressure on herself to excel at everything she can. These facts are explained slowly, and just as Finn’s team strive towards success, Willa feels her own team’s position slipping. But her fellow students prove their worth, and Willa’s defenses come down. A lot more happens, particularly with another leader, Drew, but part of the story’s fun is to go on this journey with the two girls as they try to work out what’s the best course of action, both in terms of the camp, and in their own personal situation.
Copy provided by Ylva publisher, via Netgalley and read with thanks. Highly recommended for readers who like their novels full of details of strategic manipulation, and getting the better of narcissistic jerks. The romance starts sweet, and grows in intensity and affection. All the secondary characters have something to contribute, camp hi jinks are kept to a minimum, girls stick up for each other, and the dialogue is snarky and real. Apparently there will be another book about Finn and Willa, so don’t be too dismayed by its open ending. Future Leaders of Nowhere was released all the way back in March, and I urge you to find yourself a copy. It’s an excellent example of quality Australian young adult writing.