4 out of 4 stars
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I should preface this review by stating that I am usually pretty critical of the books I read. I tend to have high expectations and really value high quality writing. That being said, I just loved Ironbark Hill! I highly recommend it to anyone who likes an engaging story that packs in a ton of beautiful and powerful messages about life, while using a keen vocabulary and ability to articulate exactly the right description at the right time. Yes, if you like that sort of thing, then you will definitely enjoy Ironbark Hill.
The story is about a 16 year old girl, Natalie Chapman, looking back on her life from middle age and reflecting on the tremendous impact that her 16th year had on her life. Her home life is tricky, with a caring but overburdened mom, an abusive stepfather, a brother who is incapacitated in some regard (the reader infers along the way), and two half sisters, one timid and one quite "spirited." Ironbark Hill is set in Australia and exquisitely details teenage love, discrimination, the will to survive and live a better life, and a dream to become an artist.
The author does a phenomenal job of fleshing out the details of the story. Her descriptions of not only the characters, but how Natalie feels about things as they are happening, is nothing short of amazing. Some of those scenes gave me real goosebumps - and I am not one to be that easily moved! The other thing I really valued about the writing was how cleverly the author slipped important details into the story: there were moments in which I learned a lot about the land, the characters, where we were in time - all with a few additional adjectives inserted in exactly the right places.
As much as I really loved Natalie and what happened in her story, what I loved the most was how it was told. As many readers might agree, one true sign of a great story, is a book you can't put down. For me, this means the book is so well written that I find myself "inside" the story, and this is absolutely what happened to me here. Furthermore, another lovely detail about why I loved this story: it felt complete. Sometimes I love a tale, but I need to know what happens later, and I feel like I wasn't done learning about the characters and their story. But not with Ironbark Hill. I truly felt like I knew all I needed or wanted to know, by the time we finished. It wasn't too much and it wasn't lacking either.
I have to really stretch my imagination to think of something I didn't like - and that's saying a lot, because I'm usually pretty critical. But the truth is that only because I am being asked to name what I liked best and what I liked least, am I even thinking along these lines. So I guess I could say that I wanted to know more about the two half sisters in the epilogue. In order to avoid spoilers, that's all I can say. Though as I already mentioned, I felt complete without knowing this information. But for the sake of the review here, I can say it would have been cool to get a little more of their stories as they got older.
Overall, my biggest kudos to the author! This was a very engaging read and I vigorously give it 4 out of 4 stars.
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