“How could I not love a book about a secret suburb somewhere near Collingwood and Fitzroy, where the sun never comes up, and sugar-addicted kids and creepy monkeys roam around abandoned housing commission flats?” – That’s how Lili Wilkinson sums up This is Shyness on her blog. I could not agree more with that quote. The experience of reading This is Shyness is much like having a lucid dream, like delving into some part of your consciousness that exists between waking and sleeping, where the lines between reality and fantasy are smudged and vague. The novel takes the “real world” (for want of a better term), and twists it delicately into something else, as if Leanne Hall had placed Melbourne in front of a funhouse mirror. The landscape is familiar, yet distorted, and we see things we don’t expect to; catch sidelong glimpses of a secret world tucked into shadows and around corners. The story follows Wildgirl and Wolfboy, alternating between their viewpoints. They meet at the Diabetic Hotel, where Wildgirl persuades Wolfboy to be her guide through a night in the suburb of Shyness, a place where the sun set one day and never came up again. The characters make a compelling duo. Both are carrying the weight of some unresolved issues from their respective lives, but there is an undeniable chemical reaction when they come together on the page. Their interactions are rich with possibility and tinges of hope amid their doubts and insecurities. As the narrative switches between perspectives, you can feel the bittersweet uncertainty and attraction as the two flawed and endearing characters connect. Wolfboy (who is a local) and Wildgirl’s journey through the slice of surrealism that is Shyness is an eventful one, as they encounter a range of curious characters, from the subtly sinister to the amusing and the outright crazy. Peopled with rampant gangs of hopped-up, sugar-addicted Kidds, dreamers, creepy little tarsiers and one evil, evil man, Shyness is a wonderfully dark and strange place, brought to life by Leanne Hall’s sharp, evocative writing. It has been said before, but I will say it again, This is Shyness is completely original and genre-blurring – a book that defies categorisation. It is a page-turner, it’s touching, it’s deliciously weird and it’s probably best to dive right into the prose with as few expectations as possible, and allow the story to sweep you up. Don’t expect pure realism or pure fantasy, and you will find yourself lost in a fractured world that exists somewhere in between the two. Alongside it’s fantastical elements and quest-type plot, This is Shyness also clearly distills the emotions tied up in the teenage experience. From Wolfboy’s deep-seated and difficult issues connected to past events, to Wildgirl’s all-consuming grapple with an incident involving some vengeful high school girls, Hall’s book explores the desire for escape and release. She writes insightfully about what it’s like to want to forget, to seek relief from the tangles of everyday life. Winner of the 2009 Text Prize, This is Shyness is engrossing, unique and definitely a book to be experienced. It has stayed with me, and I will read Leanne Hall’s further work without hesitation. Now I just need to stop looking over my shoulder for tarsiers..