4 out of 4 stars
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Ironbark Hill by Jennie Linnane is an inspiring coming-of-age story that will speak to anyone who has experienced real hardships in their lives, and builds empathy in those who have not. Covering several difficult topics including racial discrimination, abusive family situations, and alcoholism, which is pleasing to see in a work of fiction, it is an enjoyable, in-depth story that is sure to please.
Natalie Chapman, or Natty, is a sixteen-year-old girl living in Shannondale, Australia. She is part Aborigine and consequently faces constant bullying and discrimination because of her ancestry. One of the only people in the town who actually likes her is her employer, the enthusiastic Mrs. Glover, who encourages Natty in her aspirations to become a landscape painter. At home, Natty also battles her abusive, alcoholic father, Alex. Trying to come up with ways to escape his plots to get more money for alcohol and protect her mother and younger siblings from his drunken fits of temper, Natty must fight for her own . The story gives you a personal look at her feelings, motives, and aspirations during this period in her life as she makes life-changing decisions amidst such hardship, and drives home the moral that actions have consequences, especially the indescreet ones.
There was very little about this book that I did not like. What little I had trouble with was in the story only – Natty made several decisions that I did not feel were right or should have had stronger consequences fitting with the style of the story. This included a certain relationship Natty engaged in which is morally wrong but is not treated as a major issue and is not resolved. With regards to editing, I have no complaints – I only found one minor error.
There was much more about this book that I did like. One of the first things I noticed was that the writing was flowery and very descriptive, using words, adjectives especially, that are not commonly found in a lot of recent literature. Words that stood out to me as rare and unique to the author’s writing style included "concertinaed", "somnolent", and "secateurs". This personally delighted me and I did not feel that the language detracted from the story itself; rather, that it improved it even though I occasionally had to reach for a dictionary. The story contains elements that could have been gory or explicit if described by a different author, but Linnane handles these difficult parts with grace, revealing enough to inform the reader but not shock them. Finally, I liked the way the author handled the characters and made them distinct and different from each other, as well as how the book was balanced. Overall, it feels very self-contained and complete.
I rate Ironbark Hill 4 out of 4 stars for its excellent story, characters, and writing quality. I recommend this book to anyone looking for a book in this genre, including parents looking for thought-provoking books to discuss with their tween or teen kids. I enjoyed reading it and I am willing to bet that most readers will enjoy it as well.
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