– by Mikayla Baines

As a sixteen year old girl I’ve come to realise that I fall into the group that reads ‘normal’ teenage girl and romantic YA novels. The books in this group tend to hold a plot that follows some sort of love interest and has a school setting, whether it be high school, university or another sort of academic place. Through looking at the books I normally read, and taking a glimpse at what are top selling novels at the moment, the stories they communicate can be categorised into a couple of different groups:

Student falls in love with young teacher who returns the feelings.

I’ve read this plot in many books, and though it’s written in a different context each time, the novels follow the same line: she can’t have him, he likes her, it’s illegal (although I’ve read some where, in that particular society, it is allowed), they fall in love, complication, they get together.

Falls in love with their best friend and they get together.

In these novels there tends to be a big complicated plot in front of the love story, but in the end their love conquers whatever the issue was before.

Falls in love with the ‘popular’ or ‘bad’ boy, he returns feelings and they get together
she realises he is a jerk and that her best friend loves her and gets with him instead.

These two tend to be the big ones for teenage and young women novels. She is the exception and he falls for her deeply and changes his playing ways, or he doesn’t and she falls for one of her guy friends in the process. There is a love triangle somewhere in there in about 90% of these books.

Some of these novels are then paired with something supernatural such as vampires or fallen angels. Books including Hush Hush, Vampire Academy and Twilight fall under this category. There are the few exceptions, of course. These narratives have teenage angst throughout, making it easier for teenagers to relate. But the thing with consistent angst and teen romantic themes is they all become similar with school, boys who are ‘so dreamy’, school bullies and many other cliquey things.

Holiday in Cambodia opened my eyes to another genre, one that challenged me to think.

You may not realise, until you pick up and read a book you normally wouldn’t read and actually enjoy it, that your reading consists of the same genre. A lot of people are guilty of this. I’m the first to raise my hand; we find a type of book we like, we stick to it, and tend to not venture too far out of that genre.

I caught myself guilty of genre-blinkering as I read Holiday in Cambodia written by Laura Jean McKay. McKay’s first book is so different to what I normally read that I originally thought it boring and confusing. It was nothing like the simple, flowing novels that I usually read and prefer, such as the Bloodlines series written by Richelle Mead and the Divergent series written by Veronica Roth. These are great books and I love to read them, but I realised that they are all similar and easy to read.

Holiday in Cambodia came as a shock: it is written as a collection of short stories. Each chapter is a short story, a different journey, a glimpse into another person’s world. New characters are introduced and the old forgotten. Some stories are written in first person and some in third. The sole focus of these tales revolves around Cambodia.

As I read Holiday in Cambodia I realised that my perception of what was a ‘good’ novel needed challenging because I found that, through this tunnel vision I had, my experience of Holiday in Cambodia was hindered slightly by expecting a slow and boring book. As I read it and explored the world that Laura McKay creates, I found I was excited by each new chapter and the story I would get to read and experience.

It’s not a book of guessing what happens next, Holiday in Cambodia is consistently surprising. Some stories throw the reader right in the middle of the plot, in others, closure for the reader may never be reached by the end. Each story is long enough to say what it wants to say, and move on. Stories don’t follow any of the few love interests found in the collection, or outline what happens next –  that is for you to ponder.

Despite the difference to what I normally read, I like the way the book flows and jumps from one story to the next – it gave me a view of everything that goes on instead of just one or two perspectives. Each new story is a piece of a puzzle that the reader is asked to assemble to see an image of Cambodia; from the high tourist attractions to the horrors that some of the locals face everyday, such as starvation, prostitution, terrible living conditions, superstitions, and fear of the Khmer Rouge.

So while I found that I didn’t venture out of my normal genre and teenage angst books due to fear of boredom, Holiday in Cambodia opened my eyes and encouraged me to step out of my comfort reading zone and broaden my selection. Through this discovery, hopefully I will fall in love with a novel that doesn’t have some ridiculously perfect male character, but a ridiculously brilliant writing style and a talent, and I encourage other readers to try the same.

— I’m Mikayla Baines. I love to read: it’s my favorite past time. I play soccer and enjoy dancing. I have a love for writing and tend to use a lot of metaphors when describing things, even in day-to-day conversation. I have three younger sisters, a dog, cat, fish and two rats. I’m aiming to get into psychology at uni to become a clinical psychologist.


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