4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane
Ironbark Hill is a story of abuse, both to children and adults, and the effects of alcoholism on a family. Natalie, who lives with her mother and step-father, Alex, is just turning 16. She has watched Alex beat up her mother, and has experienced his brutality herself. Natalie, being the teenager that she is, rebels against Alex’s brutality, which only earns her more beatings. There is an underlying theme of racism, as Natalie’s father was an aborigine in Australia, while her mother is white. Her father died an untimely death in a horse accident, although there is some implication that Alex was responsible for his death. Natalie reveres her father’s memory and takes any chance she can to find out more about the accident as well as more about her father.
The main characters are Natalie, her mother Irma, Alex, her brother Joey who is mentally impaired from birth, her two step-sisters Robyn and Shirley, and her beloved Grandpa (Irma’s father). Robyn is the youngest at age 5 who is quite timid and she stutters (as well as still wetting the bed) which makes her a constant target of ridicule for Shirley who is 11 years old. Shirley is jealous of Robyn for taking over the attention of the family as the youngest. Shirley and Natalie are continually butting heads over one thing or another, while Robyn tries to make them all happy. She especially would do anything for her beloved Natalie. Joey is able to function, but at a years younger level that he is. He is a large boy, and uses this physicality to protect his family. After Robyn, there was a step-brother Davey who died in an accident when he was just a toddler. Davey’s death totally changed the dynamics of the family leading Alex to drink. Then comes the abuse, both to the children and Irma, but especially to Natalie. I was glued to wondering what she would do each time Alex beat her or her mother.
This book is riveting! The author takes us into a time when Natalie is just discovering her womanhood, while her whole world is in major turmoil. The decisions Natalie makes about how to handle all the chaos in her life will affect her and her family for years to come, although Natalie is just reacting to each situation at hand at the time. I enjoyed watching Natalie work through the chaos of her life, remembering some of my own decisions at that time in my own life. Often Natalie’s choices brought more abuse and problems to Natalie, just as it did for me.
Natalie finds a reprieve in her working environment through a romantic involvement with the husband of the couple she works for as a maid. She is very close to the wife, who teacher her about art, one of Natalie’s special loves and talents. Watching her work through her emotions on both sides of this romance were portrayed by the author in a very real way.
The climax of the book shows Natalie having to make a hard decision about her step-father. She is such a loving soul, can she allow Alex’s own actions destroy him, or should she help him? Is she willing to give up all of her life as she knows it now to save him from himself?
I give this book 4 out of 4 stars. I could relate to many of the situations that Natalie is in. Becoming a woman is very hard, but then add to that an alcoholic, abusive step-father, questionable circumstances of her own father’s death, her mother’s seeming inability to cope with the abusive step-father, and Natalie’s own protective nature makes life a huge battlefield for Natalie. Her coping skills are that of a child, yet also of the woman that she is becoming. This book kept me spell bound, following Natalie’s decisions one to the next, to the next. The themes included of alcoholism, love of family, respect for the elderly, protectiveness, romantic affairs, unjustness, racism, coming of age; all are themes of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
I especially enjoyed how the author presents the events of Natalie’s life in a very real way, a way that most folks can relate to at one or more points of their lives. It can be read by adults and older in age and be very interesting to them because they can relate to one or more issues in the book. It would probably not be appropriate for teens because of the many adult issues involved. Ms. Linnane does a wonderful job of making the reader feel that they are part of the book and its events because of her ability to write about sensitive issues that most of us have dealt with at one time or another. Great book!
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