4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill is a coming of age story set in mid-century Australia. Written in the first person, an older and wiser Natalie Chapman reflects upon her tumultuous sixteenth year of life. She lives on a farmstead with her mother, stepfather, grandfather, and three siblings. Every day she rides her bicycle into the town and works for Mr. and Mrs. Glover at their home called 'Riverview'. Her everyday life consists of many struggles from both within and without; her own personal insecurities akin to every teenage girl, and the very tenuous life of a poor family on a declining farm.
Nat is fiercely loyal to her seemingly meek mother Irma and the memory of her late biological father, who was aboriginal. Alex, her white stepfather, clearly favors his own two children over her and her older brother. As his alcoholism deepens, his bullying of Nat and Joey becomes increasingly cruel and dangerous. Nat hates her stepfather, and her growing defiance of him puts her at risk.
Not surprisingly, her job at the Glover's is both a solace and a source of inspiration. She is both in awe of and a little infatuated with Mr. Glover, who is a calm, intelligent, thoughtful man. Mrs. Glover is a whirlwind of beauty and creativity. She subtly mentors Natalie; lessons in painting mingle with the personal encouragement and character building Nat so desperately needs. It is at Riverview that she finds hope, for herself and for her future. Yet the romantic life at Riverview is only a ray of light into the mostly cloudy life of Nat Chapman. During her sixteenth year the storm will gather, and it will take all of her considerable strength and the strength of those who love her to break through it.
Ironbark Hill is a beautifully written book. Everything from the descriptions, the character development, to the gifted use of vocabulary is perfection. Jennie Linnane is a master. I found absolutely no fault in the editing, either. It reads like a classic; like a NY Times bestseller. I felt like I knew and understood every character, as if I was there living alongside them. It's a wonderful way to read a book! When Nat's mother Irma, finally stands up to her husband, I was completely in tune with Nat's amazement- and even her pain as she doubts her mother's fortitude to see it through. What could've been a dry, detached picture of life in rural Australia becomes a very relatable, touching personal journey in Linnane's hands.
I'm giving Ironbark Hill 4 out of 4 stars. If there are any downsides to this book it probably has more to do with my own personal preferences. I did feel dread as I was reading, knowing the tough situations Natalie was in, and fearing for her constantly. This could very well be another compliment to the fantastic storytelling, but I don't like that constant anticipation of bad things about to happen. And I did feel a tad bit disappointed at some of the conclusion of events; in some cases it seemed a bit too neat and tidy. I'd never want to give too much away though, because Ironbark Hill is well worth the read, and you'll be as glad as I was to have discovered it.
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