4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is a coming of age tale. However, this story covers the life of sixteen-year-old Natalie Chapman as she grows up with an abusive, alcoholic step-father. Life isn’t made easy for her with her aboriginal blood being an object of discrimination. In this environment, Natalie not only has to survive, but she frequently has to protect her family. This includes her mother Irma who struggles to raise the family in as much of a loving environment as she can muster.
Great works of literature generally have lesson that can be learned from them; lessons most would prefer to not learn the hard way in their lives. This story also carries a parable-like lesson. The moral of the story is to be weary of love that isn’t genuine, and it’s not worth settling for less should the genuine thing be tragically lost.
Jennie Linnane’s work got my attention immediately with all the fun words I hadn’t heard before. Many of them had me consulting my dictionary to make sure I understood the context. Of course, there were a few words wasted on me anyway, like the names of native plants that failed to paint a picture in my mind. I really liked the children characters. Part of their adventures made me think of Mark Twain quite a bit. In fact, Natalie shared quite a few similarities with Huck Finn, and I dare to say she shares the best qualities that made Huck a classic.
Now I wasn’t a fan of arrangement of events in the story. Sometimes a whole chapter would take on the job of flash back. I suppose it fit in smoothly enough, but still felt odd not presenting these scenes in chronological order. For example, their was a significant kiss mentioned that made me feel like I had glossed over something important. Then we returned to it later as Natalie focused on the alluring details of the said kiss. To me it looked like the kiss took place after the novel’s start. The event got skipped over only to backtrack there later. I felt this disrupted the natural flow of the story without good reason.
With a teenaged protagonist, I felt this story sought out a high school audience. Were the story to be a movie, PG-13 would my expected rating for it. Of course, adults will find plenty to enjoy here too. I regard this story as a true work of literature. As such, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. It is certainly a story I will ponder long after this reading of it.
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