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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1103

Author: Lili Wilkinson (b. 1981)

First published: 2009, in Australia

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Present

Locale: Australia

Principal Characters

Ava, a sixteen-year-old trying to fit in

Chloe, her intellectual, aloof girlfriend

Alexis, her girly, popular new friend

Sam , her...

(The entire section contains 1103 words.)

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Author: Lili Wilkinson (b. 1981)

First published: 2009, in Australia

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Present

Locale: Australia

Principal Characters

Ava, a sixteen-year-old trying to fit in

Chloe, her intellectual, aloof girlfriend

Alexis, her girly, popular new friend

Sam, her nerdy new male friend

Ethan, an attractive boy at her new school

The Story

Lili Wilkinson's novel Pink is set in present-day Australia. In it, sixteen-year-old Ava seeks a change. Ava has grown up with countercultural parents Pat and David and dates a sexy sophisticate named Chloe. Chloe reads philosophy books in coffee shops and thinks schoolwork is for fascists. Ava's parents love Chloe. So does Ava, but she also has an inkling that maybe she does not want to be exactly like Chloe. She thinks she might want to be someone more like herself, but figuring out just who that person is takes a lot of work. Courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers

To her parents' dismay, Ava applies for and gets in to a super-competitive private academy called the Billy Hughes School for Academic Excellence. She ditches her all-black look for a soft pink cashmere sweater. She is exhilarated by her new persona—she just does not want Chloe to find out about it. At her new school she makes friends with the popular, high-achieving crowd, led by a girl named Alexis, who takes Ava under her wing. Alexis encourages Ava to try to date Ethan and to audition for the school musical. Ava, happy to be someone new, throws herself into these endeavors.

Her first challenge, her audition for the musical, goes poorly. Ava begins to realize that merely being around Alexis does not make her into a person like Alexis, but she doubles down. If she cannot be in the musical, she reasons, she will join the stage crew—a group of social pariahs self-nicknamed Screws—so that at least she can be around during rehearsals and cultivate her friendship with Alexis and her crush on Ethan. The leader of the Screws is a red-headed nerd named Sam. The Screws, like everyone at the school, are smart, but they are an eclectic bunch. Jen likes Star Trek, but Kobe likes Kafka. Ava, dissimulating, feels lost—if everyone is different, how is she supposed to act to fit in? Though Ava forges a tentative friendship with Sam, she mostly aims to be more like her popular friends—nicknamed the Pastels—and spends time with Alexis and Ethan at every opportunity. At a cast party, Ava gets drunk and kisses Ethan. She convinces herself that she enjoyed it, though she feels remorse at having cheated on Chloe. Meanwhile, Chloe, who does not know about the kiss, or even the pink sweater, begins to feel hurt by Ava's absence.

Skeptical of Ava at first, the Screws do their best to welcome her into their ranks. After their adviser, the surly, cigar-smoking Dennis, dies, they embark on a bonding adventure in his honor. Ava begins to see the appeal of such a misfit group but cannot bring herself to give up on becoming a Pastel. Making things more complicated, she realizes that Jen is a lesbian. In an effort toward kindness, Ava takes Jen to Chloe's favorite lesbian hangout, but they run into Chloe and Chloe is cruel to Jen. Things come to a head on the opening night for the school musical. Ava is confronted by the Pastels—Alexis is upset that Ava did not say she was a lesbian—and by Chloe, who finds out about Ethan. The Screws feel used and abused. Ava finds solace with Ethan, but their brief romance is anticlimactic.

Ava resolves to make things right among all her friends. She breaks up with Chloe and, among her Billy Hughes friends, arranges an elaborate movie-going expedition that ultimately forges an alliance between the Pastels and the Screws. Still, Ava is unsure if her new friends will forgive her. Her answer comes in the form of a surprise: when she arrives to tear down the musical set, all the Screws are wearing pink in her honor. She has a heart-to-heart conversation with Sam, who has a crush on her, and realizes that she can like and desire individuals without identifying as gay or straight.

Critical Evaluation

Australian author Lili Wilkinson has written nearly a dozen of young-adult (YA) novels. Pink, first published in Australia in 2009 and in the United States in 2011, is a contemporary high school drama exploring the concept of identity from all angles. When Wilkinson penned Pink, she had already published a book of nonfiction for teens and two historical-fiction YA novels, Scatterheart (2007) and Angel Fish (2009). She subsequently wrote several YA romantic comedies, including Love-Shy (2012), The Zigzag Effect (2013), and Green Valentine (2015). Pink thus marked a turning point in Wilkinson's genre fiction.

The first of Wilkinson's books to be published in the US, Pink was well received overall. It became a 2012 Stonewall Honor Book in Children's and Young Adult Literature, given by the American Library Association for excellence in LGBT literature. Although it earned generally positive reviews, several weaknesses are apparent in the work. Critics for both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly objected to the book's resolution as being implausibly elaborate or too pat. Literary critic Bonnie Kneen took the least favorable view in her comparative analysis, condemning Pink as stereotypic for equating sexual confusion with bisexuality. Reviewers praised other aspects of the novel, however. The critic for Kirkus wrote that Wilkinson's "delightfully authentic, bawdy dialogue and cast of intensely likable misfits energetically propel this story forward," while the Publishers Weekly reviewer approved of the conclusion to Ava's emotional journey. Throughout the book, Wilkinson suggests that there might be a romance between Ava and Sam, but she chooses a more truthful ending in which Ava does not choose Sam as a sexual partner, but rather chooses to follow her desires wherever (and to whomever) they lead her. Such revelations do not come easy, and Wilkinson does not undercut it by having Ava jump into a relationship with Sam.

Further Reading

  • Kneen, Bonnie. "Neither Very Bi nor Particularly Sexual: The Essence of the Bisexual in Young Adult Literature." Children's Literature in Education, vol. 46, no. 4, Dec. 2015, pp. 359–77. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=110652964&site=lrc-plus.
  • Review of Pink, by Lili Wilkinson. Kirkus Reviews, vol. 79, no. 1, Jan. 2011, p. 66. Literary Reference Center Plus, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lkh&AN=58110249&site=lrc-plus. Accessed 24 Mar. 2018.
  • Review of Pink, by Lili Wilkinson. Publishers Weekly, 7 Mar. 2011, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-192653-2. Accessed 24 Mar. 2018.
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