Have You Seen Ally Queen is a charmingly colloquial coming-of-age story, related by the eponymous Ally, which is rather sweet without being twee. In fact, if this book was a person, I would probably call it a bit of a dag – in the quintessentially Australian use of word which is more an expression of genuine affection, rather than a criticism. I haven’t been to the west coast (come on, Australia is a wide country!) but having grown up in a coastal area, the setting of this story and Ally’s affinity for the ocean really struck a chord with me. Much to Ally’s dismay, the Queen family have relocated from Perth to Melros, a place apparently populated by “bogans, surfies and organic-spinach munching hippies”. At fifteen, Ally is contending with starting a new school, missing her friends, feeling awkwardly tall, and a serious lack of quality Killer Pythons. On top of this, Ally’s mum is experiencing PTSD, and the comfortable fabric of her family seems to be falling apart at the seams. (The novel addresses depression and anxiety in a frank and empathetic manner, rather than sick-mum trope-style fashion). Ally’s voice is the backbone of this story, so strong and clear that you can practically hear the Perth accent, and I love how distinct and full of character the narration is. Ally herself is at that very “on the cusp” point of adolescence, walking the line between the young adult and child worlds when circumstances arise that she hasn’t had to face before. The relationships with her younger brother, her father and her mother are realistically drawn, especially when it comes to Ally’s emotional and mental navigation of her Mum’s illness. I found myself relating to Ally quite a bit, having a few alternatively cringe and grin inducing flashbacks to myself at that age, and frankly just wanting to wrap this girl up in a big hug, then hang out on the beach with her. Told through short, snapshot style chapters, there is nothing massively earth-Ushattering here in terms of the story. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that readers fond of plot-driven, fast paced fiction may struggle with the gentle tone and relaxed path this novel treads. Much of the conflict centres around Ally’s internal struggles, and there’s no single “aha!” moment or enormous twist in the plot to force change. Rather, the shift in Ally and her world takes place gradually, piece by piece, as she puts down roots, develops a friendship (and a little something more), and finds ways to help heal the pain in her family. Have You Seen Ally Queen is a lovely story with scads of uniquely Australian flavour, perfectly capturing that slightly lost and awkward moment of adolescence. (Also, the cover is so gorgeous I want to frame it.)BONUS: A Highly UnScientific Analysis of Killer PythonsNo, not these pythons:These Killer Pythons!:Aim:To rediscover the Ally-Queen-style joy of the Killer Python.Hypothesis:That a person is never too old to love a good Killer Python. And red is always the best colour. (In your face, orange!)Theory: The Killer Python is a cult lolly approximately 31cm long and 1cm thick with different colours along the body of the snake. Killer Pythons are best eaten head-first. It’s a cultural tradition to stage a tug-of-war to see who gets the largest section. (Note to self: Shirley Marr has skillz in this department – do not challenge her.)Apparatus:Killer PythonsMyselfMy intrepid assistants: Ollie, JD and Katie the Barrel GirlObservations:These cannot be the same Killer Pythons that I ate as kid! Surely they used to be bigger than this? Or do I just think they were? (Last week’s Bubble-O-Bill debacle was similarly devastating, when I unwrapped it only to realise it was not the ice-cream delight of my memories but a disappointingly small lump that in no way resembled a face. Also, the bubble gum nose was more of a bulbous eye. Bill’s face was all over the place. I was unhappy.)Friends: please weigh in – I’m positive Killer Pythons used to be much longer and just more... impressive... than this. I can hear my illusions shattering all around me as I pour said pythons out of the bag. (Also, what’s with that? A true Killer Python is not bought in a bag! They should be sold loose and open to the elements and sticky kid fingers from the corner store. Field Note: They call these “Milk Bars” in Victoria.)Flavour Analysis:Red: The best. The holy grail of Killer Python colours. I challenge anyone to disagree with me! Blue: The wildcard of flavours. What exactly is this supposed to be? Blueberry? Also, the second best flavour. Awesome when it’s next to red and you get some purple happening. Green: This is not lime flavour. It’s green flavour. And much like Coola cordial, I don’t really rate it except for the novelty factor. Yellow: Yellow is the business. A kick in the tastebuds. It’s like pineapple acid. (Assistant Katie disagrees and pulls an impressive face while taste testing yellow. We amicably agree to disagree).Orange: No, just no! It tastes like snorting orange juice. I HATE ORANGE! Orange can get stuffed. Some Example SpecimensConclusion: I’m feeling rather queasy from too much sugar – I honestly don’t know how Ally did it, oh to be 15 again! Lovely Assistant Katie and I have eaten far past our Killer Python limit and are now whinging about sore stomachs and how this seemed like a much better idea at the time.But hey, all in the name of science!