Review Blog

Jul 24 2014

The protected by Claire Zorn

cover image

University of Queensland Press, 2014. ISBN 9780702250194
(Age: 14+) Recommended. On the front cover A. J. Betts describes The protected as 'a tender story of grief, trust and healing - Hannah broke my heart'. Nothing could be more accurate.
The story is told in Hannah's voice as she reveals both her life after her sister's death in a road accident and, with flashbacks, to the time before. It is through these flashbacks that the reader is given an insight into the horrible life that was Hannah's first years of high school, where she was the victim of vicious physical and cyber bullying. In her own words she describes herself as 'a floater' who is subjected to the 'dead animal stares' of Tara and her 'clones'. But the most poignant and heart wrenching aspect of Hannah's ostracism is the loss of her best friend, Charlotte, who gradually shifts her allegiance to the clones. In one short sentence, 'Eventually the 'merger' happens.' Zorn powerfully evokes the shifting relationship of these two once close friends until eventually Hannah realises that despite Charlotte's attempts '(Hannah) was only a piece of sentimental childhood memorabilia she couldn't bring herself to throw away'
Hannah's clear unselfpitying reflection on what is happening only adds to the sympathy we feel for her.
Then Hannah's sister Kate is killed in a car accident in which her father was the driver and she, another passenger. The family is almost completely destroyed: her mother is incapable of doing anything and her father struggles on after sustaining considerable injuries. Ironically, for Hannah, it is this event which changes her school life. Although she is still a 'floater' she is no longer bullied and even strikes up a friendship with Josh Chamberlain, who being new to the school, is oblivious to the school social structure.
The climax of the story should be her father's court case where Hannah is required to give evidence, but cleverly Zorn downplays this event creating a more realistic move towards healing than a sudden revelation that may have been used by other more sensationalist writers.
While there is much to feel sympathy with in this novel, there is another side as well. Hannah's sister Kate is not the loving and caring sister: she disowns Hannah at school and fails to protect her from the bullies, fearing instead for her own social status. Also with the pathos there is humour, albeit sometimes black, that adds another dimension. Zorn's description of Mrs Rorke the maths teacher 'continuing the noble tradition of torturing students with trigonometry' being just one example.
In The protected Zorn vividly and entertainingly portrays the time and place in which this novel is set by her creation of realistic characters and authentic use of language.
Barb Rye

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