An Ode to the Tome: Room for a Stranger, It Sounded Better in My Head and The Place on Dalhousie

We all have those books. The ‘I fell asleep reading you’, ‘I dropped you in the bath’, ‘I covered you in crumbs as I devoured you over lunch’ – the un-put-downables that became like instant best friends or toxic lovers. To celebrate the powerful ways in which words can rouse us, we’re asking our favourite book bloggers to pen An Ode to A Tome, love letters to three books as penned by the authors and artists appearing in this year’s program.

In our final piece in the series, Diem from the Bookish Friends podcast shares her heartfelt gratitude to the books she loves best: Room for a Stranger by Melanie ChengIt Sounded Better in My Head by Nina Kenwood and The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta.

Room for a Stranger, by Melanie Cheng

Room for a Stranger is Melanie Cheng’s first novel after her award-winning debut collection of short stories titled Australia Day. Meg is a white Australian pensioner who, apart from her pet parrot Atticus, lives in an empty house in the Melbourne suburbs. Andy is a 21-year-old international student from Hong Kong buckling under the pressure and high expectations of his family and failing his biomedicine exams as a result.

These characters are from two completely different worlds, but after a home invasion scare, Meg signs up to a homesharing program and Andy moves into one of her spare rooms. The novel alternates between these two perspectives, and the reader can observe the small ways Meg and Andy each slowly make an impact on the other.

Cheng has a thoughtful and incisive way of writing about the casual racism of Australia, the loneliness and pains of ageing, and the generational divide in her depiction of the ordinary and everyday. Room for a Stranger is a quiet, touching and tender story.

It Sounded Better in My Head, by Nina Kenwood

Nina Kenwood’s debut novel, It Sounded Better in My Head, reinvigorated my love for the YA rom-com. The ingredients for what makes a perfect contemporary YA novel is mastered by Kenwood. She perfectly captures the self-doubt and anxiety that plagues every single living moment of being a teenager, from awkward house parties, see-sawing body image, shifting friendship dynamics, potential romances to uncertain futures.

I have never murmured under my breath ‘oh my god that’s me’ more than reading about Natalie as she navigates through that strange liminal time between high school and university. There’s also some incredibly delicious tropey goodness (best friend’s older brother! Oh no, there’s only one bed and we have to share it!). One scene in particular made me shriek and throw the book in the air because it was everything a bookish hopeless romantic could wish for and more.

I was torn between reading the novel in one sitting and reading bite-sized chunks of the book so I could savour each and every line. I ended up opting to spend more time with Natalie because I couldn’t bare to say goodbye to someone who felt like a friend. It Sounded Better in My Head is a total stand-out.

The Place on Dalhousie, by Melina Marchetta

The first time I heard an extract of The Place on Dalhousie being read by Melina Marchetta herself I cried. I cried because it was 2017 and I knew I had to wait 2 years before I could get my greedy hands on the book. And I cried because that’s just what happens when I experience Marchetta’s writing.

The Place on Dalhousie can be read as an adult standalone novel but the experience of being able to see Jimmy and the rest of the gang from Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son grow up from teenagers to adults in their twenties is so moving and powerful that yes — I cried. While Jimmy is a central character in The Place on Dalhousie, this is also Rosie and Martha’s story.

Rosie is lonely and struggling with being a young mother to baby Toto after her casual fling with Jimmy two years ago.  Martha is Rosie’s stepmother, who lives in the house Rosie’s father Seb built for his first wife. The Place on Dalhousie is about grief, love, motherhood, family, friendship, and community. Reading Marchetta’s writing is always both a heart-wrenching and heart-warming experience, and this was no different.

Diem Nguyen has a podcast called Bookish Friends. She has worked at the Centre for Youth Literature, appeared at Melbourne Writers Festival school’s program, and was recently a 2019 Creative Producer at Emerging Writers’ Festival. Diem is currently completing an honours in Gender Studies at the University of Melbourne, focusing on sexual violence narratives in young adult literature. Follow Bookish Friends on Twitter and Instagram.