4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is a great coming-of-age novel. Set on the outskirts of Shannondale, Australia, the story’s narrator and protagonist, Natalie, unfolds life-changing events that occur over the span of one year.
When the story begins, Natalie is 30+ years older, and flashes back to the year she turns 16. Told from the first person point of view of Natalie, themes of hardship, sexual awakening, violence, and family loyalty develop, and the reader sees Natalie lose the last bit of her innocence as she becomes a woman faced with opportunity, decisions, and struggles.
What I look for in a successful coming-of-age novel is believability, and Ironbark Hill executes the plot perfectly in sync with all of the right elements of what it is like to transition from child to adult in the wake of abuse and turmoil.
At first, I was unsure of how I felt about the overly descriptive language in this novel. The use of so much descriptive language really teeters on the lines of what is grammatically acceptable, and initially created pause. Once I was able to adjust to Jennie Linnane’s writing style, the language really started to blossom apropos to the protagonist. It became less and less jarring and developed a natural flow that made it difficult to put the book down. It’s kind of funny that the one major reservation I had about this novel, in the beginning, ended up being what I enjoyed the most.
Part of what makes the language so beautiful is the lovely execution of various literary elements such as Linnane’s usage of alliteration, imagery, and similes. For example, take a look at this simile that is used to describe Natalie’s Mother, “She was glaring at him as though he were a cockroach defecating on the tablecloth.” A simple comparison, yet so descriptive that I felt like I was in that moment with the narrator, with a clear vision of her Mother’s face. Furthermore, the descriptions are painted with such vividness, the reading experience evokes all the senses and paints the novel like a canvas.
There are some moments of awkward word placement, possible point of view shifts, and minor grammatical errors, but I did not find the errors to take away from the quality of the novel.
The only real complaint I have about this novel is that I wish the other characters could have been more developed. I’ve always preferred character development to plot, and as result, I finished this novel with a twinge of sadness. Furthermore, It’s hard to really support the relationship with pervert Bruce if his main reasons for loving Natalie is that she listens and is innocent. If his character were developed more, I don’t think he would come off quite so gross. However, I still rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. If half stars were an option, I would have given this piece a 3.5, but due to all of the good elements present in this novel, it definitely deserves a 4 over a 3.
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