4 out of 4 stars
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By Jennie Linnard
Natalie, with a white mother and an Australian aboriginal father, had a stepfather who hated her because she looked and acted so like her deceased father with her dark coloring and independent spirit. The rest of the family included Irma, mother; two sisters, Shirley (a real brat at times) and Robyn (a sweet little girl); a brother Joey (handicapped); a deceased brother Davey; Alex Townsend, stepfather. Her real father, Johnny Chapman, had died and her mother then married Alex who she had dated prior to Johnny. Alex had taken to drink over the years and had beaten her. Natalie did all she could to protect her mother and Joey from Alex’s drunken rages. Joey, unfortunately, had a fascination for fire and had set a few on the farm – a wood pile and a shed. Her real father had been killed when he was thrown by a horse at the cattle station where he worked. Natalie had a strong feeling that Alex had something to do with his death. For a number of reasons, she vowed to kill him some day.
They had a farm on Ironbark Hill which was owned by Irma’s elderly father. He was no longer able to run the farm, so Alex was supposed to take over the operations. Unfortunately, with his drinking he was not a very diligent nor capable worker. The small but prosperous town of Shannondale was located a few miles away in the lush, green valley. They were blessed with an abundance of rain, sufficient to keep the valley green and fertile. Ironbark Hill was not so fortunate and the Townsends often ran low on their water supply. They had to haul water from a nearby creek.
Natalie had a pet heifer, Libby, which was given to her after she helped deliver it. The calf was a breech and she was able to turn the calf sufficiently so that she could pull the calf out of the mother. Both survived and the farmer was so grateful that he gave Natalie the calf, which she adored. Alex, however, told her he was going to sell the calf since he needed money to fix the farm truck. She was able to spirit the calf away to a gardener friend who was willing to let her graze with his two cows. When Alex went to get the heifer to sell her and found she was gone, he gave Natalie a horrible beating with his belt. This being the last straw, her mother told Alex to leave, move into town and get help for his drinking problem. She said to him in anger, “First Johnny, now Natalie.” Natalie asked her grandfather what her mother had meant.
Alex had started drinking after Davey’s death. He blamed Irma, even though it was he who indirectly caused the incident. Irma had gone down to the creek to gather kindling for a fire. There was a bridge crossing the creek which consisted of some logs and a timber walkway that had rotted and should have been replaced. Alex never got around to doing this. Irma started across the bridge, her foot plunged through the board and her ankle became wedged between two of the logs holding the plank. Davey heard her screams and went to help his mother. She pleaded with him to go back to the house, but he knew his mother was in trouble and came closer. She reached out and tried to grab him, but missed. He fell backwards into the creek and drowned.
Natalie, at 16, worked for the Glovers, who lived in a beautiful home, Riverview, in Shannondale, about six miles away. She rode her bike to and from work. The gardener who helped Natalie hide her calf was employed also by the Glovers. Natalie considered both he and their cook friends. Mrs. Glover was very kind to Natalie. Mr. Glover also was fond of her, but in a different way. He had given her a passionate kiss, her first, when driving her home one afternoon after work. She and Mr. Glover were seen one evening in a compromising position by one of her neighbors, Sam Teagle, who had been brought up with Alex. Sam made a serious play for Natalie and was spotted by Joey, who came to her rescue and almost beat Sam to death. A few days later, Sam’s house burned down with him in it.
Alex again asked Natalie where Libby was and told her that if she didn’t get Libby so he could sell her, he would report Joey to the authorities for causing Sam Teagle’s death. She had no choice and they went to get the heifer. Going back to their home, Libby refused to cross the swollen creek which was running high and rough after a long episode of rain. When attempting to get her across the creek, Alex slipped and fell into the creek and was unable to get out. He called to Natalie to give him Libby’s rope so the heifer could pull him out. She didn’t, and Alex was swept away by the raging waters.
The Epilogue has mom, Joey and Natalie living very comfortably on the renovated farm. The two sisters have married, had children and moved away. Natalie never married and did well at teaching her students. While she was thought an old maid, she and Mr. Glover had been having an affair for over 30 years. She was happy with her life.
I would give this book a 4 out of 4. It held my attention from beginning to end and I was empathetic with Natalie. I was able to relate to her in a few ways, which made the book that much more interesting. I found the book to be very well written with a good cast of characters – those you could love and those you could hate.
The family dynamics were something that no doubt happens in a lot of families, with an abusive, alcoholic as the main villain. Situations such as this existed far more in secret years ago, but society has now given battered wives and abused children ways to overcome this type of situation.
I felt Mrs. Glover to be a wonderful and kind person toward Natalie. She did a great deal for Natalie to get her started in her field of learning and ultimately teaching art. No doubt she came to find out about Natalie and her husband’s affair but chose to just let it be. She was involved in a lot of outside activities which she was happy doing. Some women in that time period didn’t mind that their husband had found an outlet for his sex drive that didn’t involve them.
Natalie is a very believable character, not all good and could do no wrong, but had her moments of temper, vindictiveness, having an affair, but she was very caring of her little sister, handicapped brother Joey, protecting her mother from Alex, keeping Libby away from her stepfather – she loved animals.
While she did attack one of her school mates and gave her a beating, it was not without cause. She was defending both her mother and her deceased father. She was not a troublemaker, but a good, well-behaved student under normal circumstances.
I’m always interested in reading about different cultures and other countries. How people live differently than we here in the U.S. The author described the land and its vegetation and animal life very well. I would like to have learned something of the aboriginal culture, but apparently Johnny Chapman’s aboriginal family did not make any social connections with Natalie. Her grandfather eventually told Natalie about why Alex and Johnny hated each other.
Some books I hate to see end. This was one of them. I would have liked to see Natalie find someone to fall in love with and marry. Someone with whom to have children. While having the affair gave her confidence and sexual satisfaction, I am still of the old school that marriage is preferable. A sequel would open the door to her life as a wife and mother, still with her mom and Joey.
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