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A respectable girl by Fleur Beale

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Simon and Schuster, 2007
At the settlement of New Plymouth in New Zealand, the whole community waits for war. The British settlers have bought a piece of land and the Maori chief has made it clear that the seller had no right to do so. The settlers out in the valley have come in for protection, the soldiers have formed a militia from the local men, and the women and children wait. It is a position many must have known in the empires of the nineteenth century. Fleur Beale has recreated this tension between the original peoples and the new arrivals well.

In the middle of this, life goes on. Hannah has discovered that her father may not really be her father, she has questions about her friend's marriage to one of the officers, she has heard of the ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and wants answers about women's role in society. Her life is as tense as that of the little colony around her. She is a head strong character, who questions and thinks about what is going on. Her worlds are changing fast, life is a river, ever moving on, and she must change with it. . When Hannah and her brother move to England to pursue their parentage, the novel unfortunately loses its freshness and strong setting based upon the author's experience, the previously involving plot becomes cliched and predictable. But this absorbing novel tells of a period rarely explored in Australasia's history. It will certainly appeal to those in lower to middle secondary who love a good solid read.
Fran Knight


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