4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane
Ironbark Hill is a personal, reflective narrative told by the main character, Natalie Chapman, about her life in Shannondale, Australia, during the year of her sixteenth birthday. Told in first-person narrative, Natalie is middle-aged when she is reflecting upon her life. Jennie Linnane commands the reader’s attention throughout the book with vivid events and details. This book receives a 4 out of 4 rating and I found myself engaged in the plot from the beginning.
Linnane fully develops the characters (family members) in the first two chapters and develops other characters throughout the book. She creates the ability to visualize the setting in her descriptions of native landscape and fauna. If I were using this novel in the classroom, I would challenge my students to research some of the fauna and create a drawing of a setting detailed by the author.
The author’s craft is strong with her vivid, descriptive language and allows the reader to visualize the setting as if one were involved in the plot. The vocabulary is well—developed with the author using strong, vivid words to tell the story – no boring, overused vocabulary in this book. I frequently found myself using the dictionary within the electronic reader to enrich my vocabulary with the words used in this story.
From the opening pages of this book, we find our main character struggling with bullying emanating from the fact that her heritage is that of her half-blood aboriginal father. Natalie’s voice can be recognized in her struggle for justice and the pride she feels in her own skin. This struggle between pride and justice motivates the developing plot throughout the book as she seeks revenge for her father’s death and the hatred she feels for Alex Townsend, the abusive step father whom she blames for the death of her father.
This book elicits the reader’s responses as one is compelled to make connections with the many themes prevalent throughout. Themes such as racism, abuse, alcoholism, mentorship, and sexual harassment would make this a good selection for a book discussion group. Sexual harassment is such a prominent topic now and was apparently alive and well in the 60s. At the party hosted by the Glovers, we find alcohol flowing and men “pinched bottoms-including my hurrying past one – with brazen unrestraint.”
As a teacher, I look at books as possibilities for a classroom novel selection, but I would have to caution a teacher selecting this book to consider the appropriateness of this book with its sexual content. Natalie’s affair with Mr. Glover is a theme that might need not be incorporated into a classroom of impressionable students. This book would probably best appeal to girls or women from the ages of upper teens to adult.
Poverty was a prominent theme is this plot, but I thought it was a powerful contrast of Natalie’s family life to that of her employment working for the Glovers at Riverview. Natalie longed for Mondays when she would exchange her life of poverty and abuse for one of luxury and peace. As she proclaims, “Here was my mentor, my ideal.” “No one had ever influenced me so entirely as Rosemary Glover. I found her amusing, witty and full of vitality and my young heart bloomed in the woman’s presence.”
It seems that the mentorship of the Glovers played a significant role in Natalie’s future and encouraged her to aspire to greater heights and a better future. One wonders if she would have risen to greater success without the vision of a better life that she encountered with the Glovers. This, to me, is a good illustration of the need for mentorship in our society today. One must be able to visualize a better life to achieve one.
Did Natalie receive her revenge and justice? One can only call upon internal beliefs and values to settle the answer to this question. Coming full circle, the story ends with the family celebrating Australia’s bicentennial and preparing for the trip back home to Birchbark Hill where a new house with several modern amenities await and Natalie’s career as the art teacher in full bloom. Throughout the years, she and Bruce Glover have sustained the relationship as lovers and Natalie seems to be happy in that role.
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