Review Blog

May 29 2013

Steal my sunshine by Emily Gale

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Woolshed Press, 2013. ISBN 9781742758497.
(Age 13+) Recommended. Adolescent. Family relations. Historical. Hannah's family is coming apart. There are so many arguments and her brother is being obnoxious. Her mother seems to hate her and even her eccentric grandmother, Essie, has played a silly trick on her. As the weather heats up in Melbourne, Hannah clings to her wild best friend Chloe for answers and gradually gets to know the appalling secret that Essie hides and which explains so much of the angst in her family.
Nestled together in this exceptional book are two stories, that of Hannah and her coming of age and Essie and the horrifying past that she carries with her. Both are handled beautifully, but it is Essie's story that grabbed me by the heart strings and had me reading on for more. The period of history after World War 2 and into the 1960s, when young single pregnant women were treated shamefully, is explored. I won't go into too many details as this would spoil it for the reader, but this book will open eyes about a terrible time for women in Australia's history and how its effects have echoed right to this day. Gale's subtle treatment has Essie's secret gradually unfolding like a mystery that kept me glued to the page to find out what had happened to her. The treatment of young pregnant girls is an aspect of Australian history that everyone should be aware of and the author does this without it seeming like a history lesson. An article from the Sydney Morning Herald using the search term, Bad girls do the best sheets, gives a description of what it was like to be unwanted and pregnant in the 50's.
Hannah's growth as a young woman, her relationships with her family and her best friend Chloe are described sensitively. I particularly liked the descriptions of the jealousy between Hannah and her brother Sam. Sibling competition and jealousy, which is very real, is not often part of books for teens, and I relished this aspect of family relationships. Best of all is Hannah's maturing and being able to come up with a solid and workable solution to the family problems.
Themes of teenage pregnancy, divorce, young love and growing up make this an ideal class set or literature circle novel. Fans of Melina Marchetta and Maureen McCarthy will devour this book.
Pat Pledger

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