4 out of 4 stars
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Official Review of IRONBARK HILL by Jennie Linnane. I rate this book 4 out of 4 stars. The flow and tempo of the book start slowly to provide needed character background; however, reading a little further, the book’s pace increases and becomes a page-turner. This book would be great for adults who are at the place in life they can understand how alcohol addiction can induce domestic violence, are able to emotionally deal with it, and would recognize the difference between headstrong defiance and taking matters into one’s own hands for revenge. Understanding this fine point is necessary to read this book as it appears it was intended.
The author skillfully presents the story as though she is an adult reflecting on her life. It is a coming of age story centered on Natalie, aged 16, and the hardships her family endured physically and emotionally as the author expertly weaves earlier years into the story. Natalie, called Nat mostly, is one of several people living in the same house which includes her Grandpa Elphic, mother Irma, stepfather Alex, brother Joey, and sisters Shirley and Robyn. At the point the story starts, Nat has already lived through the tragic deaths of her father and younger brother Davey, whose tales are left in suspense until just the right moment to reveal them in the book. The family is with both lavished with enduring love and riddled with terrible abuse. The emotions of Nat are on a rollercoaster, wavering with the highs of love and lows of violence. Throughout the story, Nat grows into a strong young woman with grounded ideologies that she doesn’t compromise. Her mother, who appears subservient at first, develops into a woman with strength who takes control of the family dynamics and forces change in the environment. As a mama bear protects her cubs, Irma becomes a fierce protector of her children and watching this unfold in the book is heartwarming and motivational.
This book’s best feature is the author’s ability to draw the reader into the life of Nat and become an invisible member of the family. Verbiage is reminiscent of a southern drawl which endears the reader to the characters. Words are used so creatively by the author that pictures come to mind of a family not rich in money but is rich in other ways. The personalities of the characters are drawn to a fine point and there is no missing who each is whether self-serving, rebellious, jealous, loving, abusive, or protective.
The book is organized well, and only one part left the feeling that something didn’t connect. As strong as Nat was, her flaw was to engage in a relationship with someone who appeared to be at least 20 years her senior. It felt like she should have been able to resist this man in favor of someone closer to her age. On the other hand, it communicates how girls who are manipulated for years on end by their father (or stepfather) can be drawn in and manipulated by a man who appears to provide the missing love of a father figure.
The overarching theme of the book conveys how every person can determine who they will be no matter their circumstances. The mother became a strong protector, Natalie self-educated beyond her academic years to have a better future, and even Alex changed for a while. The siblings are a bit young to have made this type of decision, but a sequel could continue the story and fill in how they grew into young adults from Natalie’s perspective. Readers close this book feeling they are capable and strong; they can be the good people despite the evil they have the misfortune of dealing with.
This book appears to be professionally edited, reads well, and a couple minor errors in grammar does not detract from the flow or story in any way.
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