4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill, the Kindle edition, was a quiet read despite all the violence and sadness contained within. Jennie Linnane, the author, tells us the story of a young woman growing up in the Australian outback in the early 20th C. Natty faces some discrimination because her late father was part Aborigine. The majority of the book is set in her 16th year. It opens with her 16th birthday and introduces us to her family: her grandfather, mother, stepfather, two sisters, and living brother. The haunting memories of her late father and late brother impact the family’s life in large and small ways. Natty works for a local family while trying to help her mother as much as possible. She has dreams of becoming an artist, and she falls in love. Her relationships, especially the confrontational one with her abusive stepfather, tell the reader a lot about her character. Despite tragedies and disappointments, Natty keeps working toward achieving her goals and dreams. The last section of the book jumps forward in time—to Natty's present—to describe how her life turned out.
The first person narrative really works in this book; I felt instantly as if I knew Natty. The last section of the book read like a letter that she had written to “catch me up” on how she was doing. The characters were well developed, and the details of rural life in that time were historically accurate. I appreciated that the story wasn’t sanitized. Her employer, and love interest, talked about having an “understanding.” Understandings were, and are, fairly common, and I dislike it when parts of the reality of a situation are left out for fear of offending the reader. 16-year-old girls fall in love, and marriage by that age wasn’t uncommon. The author handled the difficult subjects in a straightforward but sensitive manner.
There really wasn’t any aspect of this book that I disliked. The cover art was charming, the story was interesting, and the threads were all tied together nicely in the epilogue.
The British spelling and punctuation were bothersome, but that is because I’m American. Before you grab your red pen or Kindle highlighter, remember that American English and UK English are not the same languages. Once I had my “duh” moment, words like “favour” and “empathise” were easier to cope with.
This was an engaging and enjoyable book, despite the minor irritation caused by my American mind reading British grammar and spelling. I’m giving it a 4 out of 4 stars rating. If you like historical fiction or coming-of-age stories, I would recommend it for you. If the grittier aspects of humanity, like affairs or relationships between people of different ages, disturb you, then you want to give this book a pass.
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