4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is a superbly crafted novel set in Australia. The story is written in the first-person narrative from the perspective of Natalie Chapman as she remembers the pivotal year surrounding her sixteenth birthday. Natalie’s half-aboriginal father died when she was young, and she has an adversarial relationship with her stepfather. The reader follows Natalie as she learns to combat the racism and misogyny she encounters and to embrace the love and encouragement she finds with family and friends.
What I liked most about this book was the poetic description of the scenery - plant, animal, and human life alike. The author paints beautiful portraits with her words throughout the book, but my favorite instance was the portrayal of Natalie’s Jersey, Libby. “She regarded the world placidly through luminous, elegantly-slanted eyes of the deepest brown, and her light coat bore a smudge of black across the velvety brisket and down the front of each leg.” I have seen many cows in my lifetime, but I have never thought of one in such a lovely way.
I also appreciated how Linnane depicted the intricate dynamics of Natalie’s multigenerational, multiethnic household. Natalie and her brother Joey shared the same biological father and had his brown complexion, whereas her two youngest sisters had the fair complexion of their father. Their sibling quarrels and alignments transcended race and sex, and their mother gave the same love to all. Natalie’s maternal grandfather owned the house where they lived, and no matter what family issue was brewing, they always showed him respect as the elder of the house.
There was nothing I disliked about this book, but the author provides the reader with their choice of villains to loathe. My least favorite character was Bruce Glover, the husband of the couple at whose house Natalie worked. I found him to be opportunistic and deceitful. His wife, Rosemary, on the other hand, was one of my favorite characters. She exuded an unquenchable love of life and beauty. The characters in this book were multidimensional. I enjoyed the fact that each person, no matter their age, showed the good and bad aspects of their human nature.
I rate Ironbark Hill 4 out of 4 stars. This book was edited well. I noticed only one grammatical error. The author has a uniquely descriptive writing style that engages all the reader’s senses. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would enjoy an expertly written character-based novel. There are three scenes that contain violence, but they are not lengthy. One encounter was between spouses, and another was an incident between a parent and child. I do not recommend this book to those who do not enjoy this genre or who would be disturbed by the episodes of violence.
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