Barry Jonsberg, award winning Australian YA author tackles climate change, artificial intelligence and, of course, the tribulations of growing up, in his latest book for teenagers Catch Me If I Fall. The action is set in a future Australia (say 2050s?) where the Barrier Reef is gone, much of the native wildlife has been decimated by fire and flood, freak storms are frequent and the divide between a shrinking number of haves and the have-nots is massive.
The book focusses on privileged thirteen year-old twins Ashleigh and Aiden, children of one of the wealthiest families in Sydney. After a short prologue of the two at 6, the book opens with them starting Year 8 at a new school. The private school is ringed by security fencing, protecting the children from the wildness that Sydney has become. There is a very brief exploration of the outside world and an encounter with a kind of Lord of the Flies children’s gang, but generally the wider world is only glimpsed by these characters through the windows of expensive cars. In this damaged world, scientists have finally made it back on top. Ashleigh and Aiden’s mother is an extremely wealthy and in demand scientist, working in robotics, at one point gifting the pair a synthetic, artificially-intelligent dog. An accident precipitates some revelations and sets off a chain of events that causes the twins to question their world.
Catch Me If I Fall is firmly pitched at teenagers as opposed to the older end of the YA spectrum. This includes a junior high school setting, including a quirky by understanding teacher, and the thirteen-year old main characters and their peers. It allows Jonsberg to explore moral and ethical issues of income inequality, climate impacts and robotics in a way that these readers can relate to and understand. Particularly when those issues are wrapped up in an engaging (if fairly predictable) plot narrated by a likeable, flawed, young heroine.