3 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is a story about a young Aboriginal girl named Natalie, who lives in a home with her mother, stepfather, brother, grandfather, and step-sisters. Her family is very poor, so she works for Mr. and Mrs. Glover, who are a rich, affluent English family in their town of Shannondale, Australia. Mrs. Glover is an art aficionado, and loves to have Natalie help her with her paintings and theatre performances, even going so far as to help teach Natalie about art. Mr. Glover, on the other hand, is Natalie's secret lover, and he helps cultivate her love for books and learning.
Ironbark Hill is written as a memoir from an older, wiser Natalie, which I thought was an interesting aspect. If you are a fan of historical fiction, then this would be a good choice for you. It is different from the typical European or American historical fiction, which tend to take place during a major war or period of political unrest. For the most part, the "unrest" occurs in the home when Alex is angry due to being drunk. It was a nice change from the typical historical fiction that I read, especially because it introduced me to a period of history that I had never read about before, and it gave me more insight to the culture of Australian peoples.
One of the things I liked the most about this novel was the character known as Rosemary Glover. Rosemary is Natalie's mentor in all things art, and her personality is very intriguing. I found myself drawn to her charisma and charm, even if it sometimes came across as "air-headed". She is also one of my favorite characters because she never stopped encouraging Natalie to pursue her dream to become an art teacher, and was willing to teach Natalie everything she knew about art.
Another thing that I enjoyed about this novel was Natalie's stubbornness and refusal to let others belittle her for being part-Aboriginal. Even when dealing with her abusive stepfather Alex, she never wavered or cowered. She always had a retort or comeback, even if it caused her to get slapped for her "insolence". She was never embarrassed or ashamed of her heritage; rather, she took it as one of the best things about her, and she cherished it always. I have such admiration and respect for characters that are strong enough to love and accept themselves as they are, even when others try to tear them down.
As wonderful as this book was, I did have one major complaint. Because the book takes place in Australia, there are a lot of words and phrases that are used that are Australian lingo, which made the book hard to understand sometimes if I couldn't determine the meaning using context clues. Also, Linnane likes to stretch out words using hyphens, and she has a tendency to "write out" the Australian accent instead of leaving that to the reader's imagination. At some points, I was lost when she "wrote out" the accent, because I had to verbally say the word in an imitation of an Australian accent before I could understand what Linnane had written.
Therefore, I have to give Linnane's Ironbark Hill a 3 out of 4 stars. There were no written errors that I could find, but the slang and the elongated words made the text confusing to read throughout parts of the book, which pulled me out of the reading immersion. If there were a "slang dictionary" and fewer elongated words, this book would easily be a 4-star book from me. Despite that, the book was still an interesting read, and I am sure that I will be rereading it in the future.
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