4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill is a fictional novella written by Jennie Linnane. This novel retells the early life of Natalie Chapman, a part-aboriginal teenage girl in Australia, as she faces discrimination, an abusive step-father, and other parts of her life that only drive her further to rise above her the issues she faces while living on Ironbark Hill. The story is first set during the year of Natalie’s sixteenth birthday. Natalie faces the anxieties of becoming a woman, which include a possible romance and her fight to maintain her independence form Alex, her step-father.
I couldn’t find any element I truly disliked about the plot, portrayal of characters, or other parts of Ironbark Hill that I feel could use improvement other than the break-neck pace that followed the halfway point in the book. There were no typos or grammatical errors present. Overall, it manages to keep my attention through just enough descriptions of characters, places, and events in a way that reminds me of my first reading of Harper Lee’s famous novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
Among the parts of this story that I liked most were the reminiscent style of writing from the adult version of Natalie. Through this perspective, Linnane manages to win me over by making the story feel as though Natalie Chapman is an old friend who has decided to discuss her adolescence with me because I have become invaluable to her. I felt that this main character was very relatable to read the story from once the Prologue established the strife that she has to deal with through the end of the final chapter.
Another feature of the story that I absolutely adored while reading this is the plot and character development that occurs from Natalie’s young perspective. She has flaws, of course, and behaves as one would expect a teenager, regardless of the time in history, would in order to have the best possible outcome to her conflicts. She’s a little mouthy, but only when she needs to be, and she understands most perspectives in her life in a way that conveys a sense of maturity. She wasn’t in the least bit annoying.
Linnane depicted each character, seemingly minor or major, very well to give the reader a sense of realism as they learn more with each chapter. I am aware that this author is a native of Australia, so her level of local knowledge of the setting and the perceived lives of aboriginals deeply impressed me. She is aware of everything, it seems, from the mannerisms of young children during this time period to the common architecture of homes and the most desirable cars.
Along with great attention to detail regarding mannerisms, Linnane also manages to demonstrate delicacy in issues that plague young women and Aboriginals that happened before twenty-first century in Australia. Romantic ideals and racial tensions are present, but they aren’t in the foreground as blunt, irritating plot devices. They appear intermittently to show the various mindsets that go into the lives of each character. The racism that Natalie faces as a person of Aboriginal descent contributes to her growth and doesn’t hinder her self-esteem from flourishing as she becomes a young woman.
I rate Ironbark Hill 4 out of 4 stars. As I have mentioned before, there were no visible typos or grammatical errors. I also give the book this rating because the plot and character development were well-written, as was the style of speech and Australian dialects that are included in the story. The plot wrapped up well, without appearing forced or slapped together at the last minute. I suggest this book for those who like to read Historical Fiction that focuses on adolescence.
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