Review Blog

Oct 09 2014

Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier

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Allen & Unwin, 2014. ISBN 9781743319437.
(Age: 14-18) I quickly put my hand up to review this as this dark period in Sydney's history fascinated in a ghoulish way as a child growing up in the Harbour City, and since (the only series of 'Underbelly' I watched was the 'Razor' one).
Imagine my surprise when I realised this version of events had a paranormal edge: a fact which made it all the more intriguing.
Kelpie, is a wild child, growing up an orphan in the dangerous neighbourhoods of 1930s Sydney. She is a small survivor, undernourished, underdeveloped but very intelligent and certainly streetwise. She is careful to keep herself safe and - she sees ghosts. The spectres of so many who have died, either violently in this mayhem of gang rivalry or just those who have passed on, appear to Kelpie usually at the point of their demise. One such ghost, Miss Lee, laboured to teach Kelpie to read and kept her as safe as a ghost possibly could.
Misled by a mean spirit, Kelpie enters a tatty old boarding house seeking apples, and is confronted by the bloody corpse of Jimmy Palmer, right hand thug of the notorious Glory Nelson. At the same time, Jimmy's latest girlfriend, Dymphna arrives at the scene. Dymphna is Glory's best 'girl' (yes, prostitute) and in lightning speed, Kelpie and Dymphna are thrown together to evade police and tread the delicate and potentially disastrous line between rival mob bosses, Glory and Mr Davidson.
The most extraordinary aspect of this uneasy alliance is that Dymphna also sees ghosts - and despite their outward differences in physical appearances with Kelpie as small as an 11 year old and Dymphna as glamourous and grown up as 20 year old - they realise with a shock that they are both sixteen. Both girls have a history which makes one empathise with each in their precarious situations.
Razorhurst is vibrant, bloody, gripping and at times shocking. It is an extraordinary take on well known factual history of Sydney's bloodiest episode in history.
Although the recommended reading age is 14 up, I would suggest for a school library that you might choose to confine this one to your Senior Students. It is a great read, but at times graphic and raw.
The author's website and teaching notes are available online.
Sue Warren

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