4 out of 4 stars
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At the tender age of sixteen, most children would be enjoying the beginning years of independence. For Natalie Chapman though, life is anything but free. Young as she is she has already found her life's meaning, however unwillingly. She must protect her abused mother and younger siblings from her grieving, alcoholic step-father. On top of that, she is determined to find out what lead to her father's death and avenge him as well. The many trials that occur within Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is a simple tale of a family's life in early Australian Outback, a surprising calming yet dramatic read.
I would like to first point out one of the most obvious traits that shine brightest throughout the novel. That being its atmosphere and its ability to lore readers with charming description. Similarly to most modern people, we tend to romanticize past lifestyles as something almost whimsical but also cloaked in difficulties that make them distinguishable. The roaring twenties are lusted after for their flappers and parties but are also pitied for their political and economic climate. The Victorian era is remembered for their corsets and ballrooms, but also their suffocating social codes. Well, as I read I found myself experiencing a similar emotion of want and woe toward the story's setting. Cleverly, the author creates an accurate portrayal of life on the farm in Australia, including all the beauty of wildlife and animal companionship. Enough so that I wanted to visit said setting myself. However, the author does not shy away from the very real troubles her characters face. Be it the struggles of an aboriginal child, an abused woman, or the uncertainty of farm life, the novels use of drama creates a grounded reality to remind readers that this could be real. Its particularity shines through in its style of writing. This balance often reminded me of Pride and Prejudice, timeless and relaxing.
In addition, I truly admire and appreciate the author's ability to make a well rounded, flawed character. Written in the first POV, Natalie provides a somewhat reliable account of the events of her life. As a young, strong will girl her attitude acts as a gravitational pull and in a short time, the reader is invested in her life, especially her safety. The other characters are of no exception. Characters like her employers and abusive stepfather are far from flat, their past and roles in Natalie's' life are imperative to the overall plot and well fleshed out.
In turn, the cons barely hold a candle to its many compliments. Still, a few sticks out to me, few I can not ignore. For one, there is something to be said for the rather inappropriate relationship within the text. For the sake of spoilers, I will not dive into whose relationship disturbs me so, but I will say it needs a fair warning. At the time of the story's setting perhaps the initial issue that I have with the relationship wouldn't have been a big deal, but the fact remains that it was a source of great unease for me. Lastly, of course, there is a matter of punctuation errors. Single quotation marks are used for dialog instead of the standard double. There are also a few misplaced periods and commas here and there. Yet nothing so disorienting to pull the reader from the novel's spell.
In the end, I think the elements come together beautifully. The environment is crafted with lovely writing and filled to the brim with intriguing characters. The plot is gripping in its dramatic incline and climax. I can see young adults (YA) and older readers sitting back and enjoying it as much as I did. I rate it a deserved 4 out of 4 stars.
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