Lili Wilkinson
Allen & Unwin, $17.99

Penny Drummond is a year 10 student clinging to her journalism role on the school gazette until she can become a ''real'' journalist. At the novel's opening, she's sassy, self-assured and overconfident. She also has an extremely low opinion of her fellow students, labelling them ''total Neanderthals''.

"As I made my way to swim training at lunchtime, I got trapped in a throng of giggling, Impulse-drenched, hair-sprayed girls. They were discussing outfits and boys and how to sneak alcohol into the school social, and boys, boys and boys.''

Penny's perfectionism and superior air can make her unlikeable to the reader; however, it's her inflated sense of self that renders her human and vulnerable. It's also the catalyst for the journey of self-discovery she unwittingly undertakes.

From the outside, Penny appears to be an accomplished, well-rounded student. She excels in her academic pursuits, manages a bundle of after-school activities, plays the oboe and blitzes every debating contest. But in reality, Penny's life is a hollow, emotionless void, lacking honesty and any real affection.

When she discovers a boy posting anonymous messages on a love-shy forum, she determines to uncover who he is. She hopes her research will result in an article that will highlight her obvious journalistic prowess. A small part of her also wishes to help the boy.

"This investigation will delve into the unknown world of love-shyness, examine its characteristics and symptoms, and chart the progress of a genuine love-shy."

Penny's search for the mysterious love-shy boy forms the basis of the plot. As the novel progresses, however, her motivation to help diminishes as her need to find her true self takes over.

Wilkinson strips her characters back to their innermost selves, revealing them as sometimes strong, capable and intelligent, and at others as vulnerable, weak and needy. Weaving layer upon layer of character analysis and development, she allows readers to explore and understand several versions of the modern teenage psyche. The book also deals with serious issues of mental illness and anxiety.

Fresh, contemporary and full of funny moments, Wilkinson's light touch and thoroughly realistic style make Love-shy a polished gem.

This story Love-shy first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.