Befriended: Pip Harry on Rowing, Friendships, and Passion

befriended friendship feature reading blog

(Woo! We have an actual feature icon thanks to our buddy, Alex, who also is responsible for our site design.)

We’re back with another BEFRIENDED chit-chat with one of my favorite Australian authors, Pip Harry. She’s responsible for writing two books I’ve loved/devoured/wanted to kiss and hug, Head of the River and I’ll Tell You Mine.

When I finished HotR this summer, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The scenes were so incredibly vivid and it was so apparent that Pip was writing from first-hand rowing experience. (Note: I think Pip is pretty bad ass for having gone through such rigorous training and lived to talk about it!) One thing I also loved seeing was Leni, a very introverted, focused girl, open up to new friendships and realizing the competition was about more than winning. I really wanted to talk to Pip about her experiences and how those transformed Head of the River.

Thank you so much to Pip for being so candid and open, and for writing such an impeccable story I can’t wait to share with my friends.

♥

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Head of the River by Pip Harry
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Summary (from Goodreads): It’s the most elite school sporting event in the country. Nine rowers, 2000 gruelling metres and one chance for glory in the ultimate team sport. Sit forward … ROW. 

Tall, gifted and the offspring of Olympians, superstar siblings Leni and Cristian Popescu are set to row Harley Grammar to victory in the Head of the River. 
With six months until the big race, the twins can’t lose. Or can they? 

When Cristian is seduced by the easy route of performance-enhancing drugs, and Leni is suffocated with self-doubt, their bright futures start to fade. Juggling family, high expectations, study, break-ups, new relationships and wild parties, the pressure starts to build. 

As the final moments tick down to the big race, who’ll make it to the start line? And who’ll plummet from grace?

Before you began training for the Head of the River competition, how would you describe your personality?

Before I started rowing and training for the Head of the River I was a heavily chlorinated swimmer. My attitude to training and competing was entirely selfish – how fast could I go? How much could I take off my time? I had friends in my squads, but nothing like the buddies I would make in the boat.

Pip-Harry-as-a-Teenage-RowerHow were you changed by the women you rowed with and what Big Life Lessons did you take away from your experience?

The girls and women I rowed with and coached were all so different (shapes, sizes, personalities!) but we all had to learn how to blend those differences into one cohesive, powerful machine. I learnt that a bad day on the water for them was a bad day for me. It sounds corny as hell, but rowing made me appreciate working as a team and the true bonding nature of team sports. I was inspired by the coaches who believed in me and led by example and were so wise and generous with their time. I was changed by my crewmates who showed strength, desire and determination. I was changed by the competition, which was cruel and unforgiving, but also joyous and exhilarating.

I learnt so many life lessons in the boat – how to work as a smaller cog in a bigger wheel, which has helped me enormously in life and work. I learnt to quietly endure pain and suffering in the boat (think rain, cold, blister, endless drills) which has given me more grit and determination (particularly in my writing career) I learnt that even the best team can lose on the day. You need good preparation but also a sprinkle of luck and fair winds. If you want to be a contender, you’ve got to roll with the losses, get up and have another crack.

Were you more like Leni, who had a lot to learn relationally, or were you more like Cris, who lacked passion for the sport and did it to please his parents?

As a rower I was equal parts Leni and Cris. Which is why the book was so fun to write! Like Leni I was a high achiever. I rowed in a state crew at nationals, getting there on hard work, obsession and all the A type personality traits that Leni has. At times this made me incredible hard to be around. I used to get frustrated at anyone who couldn’t keep up, I preferred to row like a bull at a gate all the time (no easy strokes) and I was very strict and tough on myself. I struggled to hold down romantic relationships in my late teens and early 20s because I put myself and my training first and I was completely inflexible. On the other hand, I also had a Cris streak (who doesn’t right?) I struggled to keep my weight down because I love, love sweets and junk foods. I’m also sometimes very seduced by sleep ins and can easily be talked into skipping training. I’m quite lazy at times and at high school, my teachers despaired at the lack of effort I made with subjects that didn’t interest me or I found difficult.

Pip-Harry-Teenage-RowerHow long has it been since you were a Head of the River competitor, and what are your relationships like today with the women you rowed with?

The last crew I coached through to the Head of the River was in 1998. They were a quad scull of funny and talented 14-15 year old schoolgirls who rowed the A final and came second by a fingernail. Heartbreaking! They dissolved after that race, and I did too. We had to pick ourselves up and realise we were 2nd fasted in the entire state, and that was pretty bloody fantastic! Also, who really cared in the end? We had just had four months of laughs, fun and learning. And they had gone from virtual strangers to close friends. That’s what it’s all about. The last time I was in the boat myself was around 2005 in a veteran’s crew (aged over 27 years) I had my biggest success and won five gold medals at the Australian Masters Games. I loved rowing with those older women, because they were more settled in themselves, understood it wasn’t life or death (it was just a race) and they had better wine, food and accommodation during away regattas!

I’m still in contact with some of the women I rowed with when I was a teenager and they are in the acknowledgments page of the book. Yesterday I got an email from Lucy, who I rowed with when I was 16-18 years old. She invited me to her 40th birthday celebrations and said her husband would pay for my interstate flight as part of his present to her – that might tell you how much we value each other’s friendship all these years later! Another rowing friend, Ingrid, sat with me in a café here in Sydney and gave me ideas for certain racing scenes in Head of the River. Another friend, Kate, was my running and training buddy and even though we are now busy mums, we still meet up every few years to talk about those crazy days on the river. Others I’ve lost touch with, but they hold a marker in my heart. I will never forget anyone I rowed with.

♥

Thank you so very much to Pip for sharing her experiences with us and the awesome teenage photographs of herself!
Friends, please, please pick up a copy of Head of the River.

Need more convincing? Read my review of Head of the River!

Magan: Head of the River by Pip Harry

Book-Cover-for-Head-of-the-River-by-Pip-HarryHead of the River by Pip Harry (twitter | website)
Previously Reviewed: I’ll Tell You Mine
Publication Date: June 25, 2014
Publisher: University of Queensland Press 
Pages: 304
Target Audience: Young Adult
Keywords: rowing, boy-girl twins, Olympian parents, competition, performance-enhancing drugs
Format Read: ARC from Publisher (Thank you!)

Summary: Head of the River follows Leni and Cris, twins, as they prepare, with their rowing teams, for the Head of the River championship between their 11th and 12th years of high school, but face life-changing struggles throughout the months leading up to the competition.

Wow. Wow. Wow. Just… wow. (And um, where to begin?)

The opening pages of Head of the River detail an assembly days after the Head of the River rowing competition has ended. With few specifics, there’s the implication that something grim has occurred. The mood is sour, and the focus has atypically shifted away from the championship and everyone’s spirits are squashed. We’re introduced to the two main characters, Leni and Cris, who are twins and both on the rowing teams. Their stories are told through alternating chapters. Flawlessly, Pip Harry tells both of their stories — the pressure they both face and the ways they deal with it — and rhythmically weaves them together.

Leni is very focused and driven, but so-much-so that her attitude comes across as untouchable and distant. She aspires to be like her Olympian rower parents (her mom took home the gold, her father the silver) and trains around the clock to achieve her goals. She’s studious and determined; if rowing doesn’t work out for her, she wants to have a solid secondary plan. As Leni moves into a leadership role on her rowing team, she has to learn to let go and become less of a control freak. In order to be a great leader, she must be more relatable, so despite how badly she wants to yell at Rachel when she seems disinterested and whiney during practice, Leni has to stop looking down on others.

Cris, on the other hand, is very likable and friendly, but his kryptonite is over-indulging in food (and skipping workouts). He’d rather eat an additional slice of cake than keep fit for his sport. (This is where he and Leni are so drastically different.) When Cris loses his seat to a newer, less-trained rower and is booted down to second team, he is jolted. He’s told he has to lose weight, as he tips the scales at over 250 lbs., and prove himself again. His best friend, Peter, is also moved down to second team, and sadly, the two boys devise a less-than-healthy plan to help them quickly snap into shape and redeem themselves.

Leni’s journey is very relational — she’s a very distant character that’s so focused she can’t take in the moment and make lasting friendships. She struggles with finding herself in a relationship with Peter she’s not sure she really wants to be in. She is attracted to the new guy, Sam, but he easily manipulates her. Audrey is her former best friend that she really misses, but since being swept away by Peter, they’ve grown distant and have a secret friendship outside of school. Rachel sits behind her in the boat, but annoys the hell out of her; if they don’t get in sync, it will surely mess up their rhythm on the water. There are so many layers to Leni. It seems like she’s a girl who has it all figured out and is really going to excel, but she felt so genuine. Her storyline with Sam and Peter really struck a chord with me because I remember finding myself in the same exact situation as her and wondering how I got there.

Cris’ struggle is more of a mental one. He feels coaxed into the supplement/steroids regiment by Peter and completely incapable of backing out. He’s conflicted over whether or not rowing is really what he wants to do or if he’s doing it just to please his parents. (Sidebar: the parents are really fantastic, appropriately supportive and visual throughout the story. And I loved how they, too, had struggles of their own — the father battles with the English language as he’s Romanian and it really puts a damper on what jobs are available to him, though he’s more qualified than most in the positions he desires.)

Throughout the tail end of Leni and Cris’ 11th year of school and beginning of their 12th, they train for the Head of the River competition. We see them morph and change and be challenged. With each row they take, the intensity is turned up a notch. By the time the competition arrives, and especially when we find out what the big event is that was alluded to at the beginning of the book, your heart is pounding for the results and cheering both the teams on… but, you also tread lightly because you just know something has gone terribly wrong.

Pip Harry drew on her own experiences as a rower and it really showed because every aspect was so well laid out. I went into Head of the River not knowing a thing about rowing, but through the training, the races, the camaraderie, I felt like I, too, had been training alongside each team. I could absolutely relate to Leni’s personal pressure — the desire to do well. The drive. But also the confusion over guys — that hit teenage Magan hard. Cris’ body insecurities (which, yay for exploring this from a male POV) and fluctuating between wanting to be fit and having a screw-it attitude really resonated with me, too.

It’s no doubt that I had a book hangover when I turned the final pages of Head of the River. Pip Harry has undeniably written one of my favorite stories thus far of 2014.

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Book Review of Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo

Magan: Holier Than Thou by Laura Buzo

Book Review of Holier Than Thou by Laura BuzoHolier Than Thou by Laura Buzo
Publication Date: May 1, 2012
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Pages: 291
Target audience: New Adult Fiction / Adult Fiction
Keywords: miserable job, death of a parent, grief, friendly coworkers
Format read: Received from Mandee at VeganYANerds (Thank you!)

Summary: Holly doesn’t deal well with change, but everything around her is evolving. She doesn’t love her job, but she pours herself into it so she doesn’t have to focus on the friendships that aren’t the same anymore or her mother who is much closer to her brother.

As a social worker, Holly’s main focus is mental health patients. To get through her long, long days where she often feels overworked and under-appreciated, she has her best work buddy, Nick. He’s clever and understands her, and often they are paired up together to visit patients. At home, Holly lives with her supportive, kind, geeky boyfriend Tim. She’s excited for all the things they get to experience together and enjoys spying on her next door neighbors.

Holly balances present day (as a young 20-something) with flashbacks from the past. It’s a bit difficult at first to figure out what’s happening in her life, but I settled into the rhythm of Buzo’s intelligent writing quickly. Holly’s battling a lot of things. She’s still reeling from the death of her father who died when she was 15 years old. Her mother is difficult and their relationship isn’t the best. She feels more connected to her high school best friends than she does to her own family, especially since her mother tends to favor her younger brother, Patty.

To avoid dealing with the past (in which there’s a vague story about a boy named Liam that Holly was in love with for a long time), she throws herself into her work. All of her attention and effort are focused on her job. She’s a perfectionist and feels like she can “fix” everyone else.

But what she doesn’t realize is that she needs to heal.

She’s never allowed herself time to properly grieve any of the big circumstances that have happened in her life. She’s always pushed forward. She pretends that life will just carry on. She struggles with accepting change, especially when she begins to realize that her friendships are a blurry version of what they used to be. But what she wants is for her friendships and the people in her life to stay the same, for no one to ever change. It throws her off kilter when everything begins to shift.

Holly’s story, while a simplistic one, is very realistic. As a 27 year old lady, I could very much relate to what Holly was going through. In my personal life, I’ve absolutely struggled with severed friendships and moving on. I’ve cried on countless occasions over people that I no longer see or talk to because we’ve just grown apart. Change is evil. I also fear a lot of things for the future; I have personally never lost a parent or grandparent, so anytime someone is sick or hospitalized, I freak out and go crazy. My family is very close and I just shut down. Essentially, Holly was so focused on fixing everyone else that she didn’t even realize she had all these barriers built up around her to protect her from anything bad that could happen.

This was my second read by Laura Buzo and while the writing was sometimes a bit abrupt when I was sorting through changes in scenery or flashbacks, I still felt incredibly connected to Holly. I really, really enjoyed reading about someone I could relate to so well. Holly is just an ordinary girl going through ordinary life things. I felt very involved in her well-being, and had such a good grasp on her friends, family, coworkers, and even clients. Buzo did what she does best in Holier Than Thou — she explored the life of someone who’s extremely relatable and told her story in a way that causes you to step back and examine your own.

Thank you to the lovely Mandee at VeganYANerds for sharing Holier Than Thou with me. Check out Mandee’s review here. I sent my copy on a little mini tour, so I’ll link up those reviews below when they’re published.

  • Ginger at GReads! said, “…[the] story reached out to me and delivered a message I hadn’t known I’d been searching for.”

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book cover for Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Magan: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

book cover for Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo

Major cover love for this book!

Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Pages: 256
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: first love, first jobs, feminism
Format read: ARC from NetGalley.

Summary: Amelia, 15, takes a job at her local supermarket to earn extra money where she meets Chris, 21, and subsequently develops more-than-friends feelings for him. To pass the time at the grocery store, they discuss books, life, and the inequalities of women.

 

 

Have you ever read a book where you thought maybe the book was so good you couldn’t do it justice when you wrote your review? I immediately texted Estelle when I finished Love and Other Perishable Items because I didn’t know how to put my thoughts and feelings into words. Could I possibly convince you that this book is amazing? Buzo’s writing is so incredibly thorough – I’m not sure my review even begins to do it justice. More mature audiences would enjoy this book, somewhat because of content – drinking, sex, drugs, but mostly because it led me to do a considerable amount of contemplating. I recommend this for anyone who enjoys thinking beyond what’s written on the page.

Growing up, I remember being attracted to the older guys — they were wiser, more mature, and could hold a conversation with me that lasted longer than a few minutes. They captivated me and more often than not, my parents didn’t allow me to pursue relationships with said guys because they were “too mature” for me. Womp womp womp.

In Love and Other Perishable Items, Amelia takes a job at a local grocery store. During her training, she’s assigned to a store veteran, Chris, who is to show her the ropes and explain the job to her. A friendship is sparked from the very beginning – despite the fact that Amelia is 15 and Chris is 21. Amelia is a very mature teenager and her feelings quickly develop into lustful ones. Chris admires how Amelia over-analyzes everything – he’s amused and entertained by her. He provides a listening ear for all the things that absorb Amelia’s mind.

Amelia tells the overarching storyline in a mostly chronological sequence of events. Her story is written in first person and composes most of the story, but the interesting addition is how Chris is incorporated. He and Amelia bond over literature and the books she’s given as required reading at school; he is an English major in college. Because he’s a writer, his story is written as a series of journal entries. They are piecer and often fill in the gaps for Amelia’s narration. The combination of getting the larger picture and seeing sub-stories and another character’s perspective provided a comprehensive understanding of the complexities of Chris and Amelia’s relationship.

Chris and Amelia are two observant, albeit sometimes cynical, characters who love dissecting the world and books. Feminism plays a tremendous role in Love and Other Perishable Items. Amelia struggles with her family dynamics – a mother who is constantly worn down and left with little time for herself while her father often seems distant and very self-involved, never lending a helping hand at home. She views their relationship as unfair and struggles to understand the prejudices and responsibilities placed on women. She fights to understand how women have worked so hard to gain independence and equality and yet, we seem more overworked than ever. I, personally, really enjoyed these discussions between Amelia and Chris — it evoked contemplation and reflection upon my own marriage. Did I agree with Amelia and were those things she disliked so much happening in my very own home? (I have to say I’m a lucky gal with a husband who kindly does his fair share of work around the house.)

Chris and Amelia’s relationship is a very complex one. Chris has hesitations because of Amelia’s age and she has hope that he can see beyond the number. Buzo beautifully explores what it’s like to feel like you’ve met your soul mate, but for things to realistically be complicated and impossible. How it feels to fall in love for the very first time with someone who seems so out of reach. I met my husband when I was 16 years old and he was 20. While there were certainly hesitations on my parents behalf, here we are nearly 11 years later (happily married for 8). My personal story gave me hope for Amelia and Chris.

Love and Other Perishable Items is unlike any other young adult book I’ve read this year. In the time since I read this book, the story has marinated and become that much more rich and flavorful. It’s engaging and refreshing, explorative and thought-provoking. As soon as I turned the final page, I wanted to flip to the beginning for a re-read because I wanted to adequately appreciate all the intricacies of Buzo’s incredible writing.

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book cover I'll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry

Magan: I’ll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry

book cover I'll Tell You Mine by Pip HarryI’ll Tell You Mine by Pip Harry
Publication Date: March 28, 2012
Publisher: U.Q.P.
Pages: 264
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: goth, boarding school, friendship, parental problems
Format read: Paperback from Mandee at VeganYANerds

Summary: Kate is sent to boarding school after an unknown event occurs between her and her mother; she begrudgingly goes but has problems connecting with her roommates and conforming to all the rules she must follow.

 

Kate Elliot is a girl who found her identity when she allowed her friend Annie to give her a makeover. Despite her mother’s blatant disapproval over her new gothic look, Kate won’t falter from dressing this way. While nothing ever seems to please her career-driven politician mother, Kate’s behavior and an unknown mishap (the mystery is unraveled throughout the book) eventually lead her to boarding school. She is no longer welcome in her own home and her parents decide she needs more structure; the time away from her family (they hope) will improve Kate’s attitude and allow their broken relationships to mend.

Kate is forced to room with three very different girls — two popular girls and one rule-breaker with a reputation, Mandy. Kate goes through periods of absolute resentment and distances herself completely from the three girls. Mandy eventually breaks the barrier and forces her way into Kate’s life. They’re an odd pair — Kate stands out because she’s got multiple piercings, dies her hair black, and intentionally wears makeup a few shades paler than her skin tone; Mandy wears skimpy clothes and has a reputation for being a bit slutty. Their friendship was one of the most beautiful aspects (other than Harry’s lovely writing) of I’ll Tell You Mine. Their conversations are full of snark and laugh-out-loud funny moments. Their antics (or rather Mandy’s plans) often lead to trouble.

Mandy is honest and upfront about how she’s feeling; she isn’t afraid of the front Kate puts up to dissuade people from befriending her. Mandy seems utterly naive to Kate’s insecurities and solitary ways. As Mandy begins to strip away the walls Kate has built around herself, we get to know Kate in a whole new way. She’s distraught over the events that occurred with her mother. Why does it seem like she’s always messing things up and doing something to irritate her mom? She misses her dad (who understands self-exploration and calls her mother out on her hypocrisy). Her little sister is one of her favorite people in the world; she wants to set a good example for her.

Kate feels stuck between making new friends and maintaining the old friendships; her two best friends (pre-boarding school) Annie and Noah seem to be moving on just fine without her. She’s heartbroken when she learns that Noah is dating someone new. Will he never see that she’s in love with him? Kate goes through many a transformation and the separation from her life outside of school allows everything to shift into focus. She sees what she was doing wrong, how she could be better, and what she could change.

The question is: Will she ever be given the opportunity to prove she’s a different person or will she just continue to mess things up?

I’ll Tell You Mine is a story I didn’t want to end. Pip’s writing is concise and packed with punch, every word very intentional. I connected to Kate on so many levels — struggling to become your own person but feeling like you’re always coloring outside the lines, being a bit insecure about how you look and what you weigh, and wanting that boy you’ve loved for oh-so-long to finally take notice. The friendship and family aspects were so thoroughly explored and impeccably written; I projected more drama into the book by not always trusting Mandy’s intentions or assuming the worst. Time and time again, Pip proved me wrong and restored my faith in her characters.

Pip’s writing is authentic and realistic. She flawlessly developed a story that everyone should devour. There are a few wonderful surprise gems hidden within the pages of I’ll Tell You Mine (possibly including a love story that made my heart go pitter patter). If you’re interested in a story that’s very true-to-life and will sweep you away, definitely take a chance on Pip Harry’s debut novel.

(Thank you very much to Mandee at VeganYANerds for gifting this incredible book to me!)

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Travel Tales: A Round Up

travel tails feature with rather be reading, alexa loves books, and novel soundsIt’s September 3 and that means (sadly) Rather Be Reading Blog’s Travel Tales event with Alexa Loves Books and Novel Sounds has come to an official close. We hope you enjoyed the series, getting to know other bloggers, and also discovering a few new titles (or at least looking at them in a different way)!

» Time Travel!! Decade style.
» A tiny trip-themed q&a with Kelly from Radiant Shadows!
»  The gals at My Sister’s Bookshelf share a trip inspired by their love of literature!
» A love letter to those fabulous Aussie writers!
» Austin & New York City… in books.
» Pam Mingle, author of Kissing Shakespeare, stops by to share her thoughts on writing historical fic for YA.
» Settings from books we want to visit… ASAP.

Be sure to check out Elena‘s Travel Tales recap here & as well as Alexa‘s wrap up of the series here!

Thanks to everyone for reading and sharing their comments!

And especially to Alexa and Elena for asking us to participate and being so creative and sweet and fun all the time!! xo