Review Blog

May 10 2012

Grace beside me by Sue McPherson

cover image

Magabala Books, 2012. ISBN 9781921248498
(Age: 15 +) Highly recommended. This is the first novel from Sue McPherson, winner of the inaugural 'black and write!' Indigenous Writing Fellowship. The narrator is Fuzzy, a young girl with indigenous heritage, who is living with her grandparents in a small Australian country town. Fuzzy tells us that she and her grandparents 'all love stories' and that she is 'a guardian of stories'. In fact, this book reads less like a traditional novel with a beginning, a middle and an end and more like a series of vignettes. It is as if the reader is sitting down over a cuppa while Fuzzy regales us with stories about the life and characters of her country community.
Some of these characters are larger than life (like her neighbour, Yar, who has a penchant for gardening in his purple tutu), some of them are funny (like Father John who always seems to be in a spin) and some of them are decidedly sleazy (like Mr Ridgeway). The sense of storytelling is particularly evident in Fuzzy's use of a straightforward and chatty style which is frequently peppered with old fashioned Aussie slang: 'two bob's worth', 'we're buggered', 'I reckon' and 'bloody oath'.
Interestingly, despite the teenaged narrator, the focus of the story is less about teenagers and more about family; in particular, Fuzzy's Nan, a woman with strong views and a forthright approach to life. It is Nan's saying 'with Grace beside me' that provides the title of the novel and a common core to the stories, as Fuzzy learns how this refrain not only provides solace when faced with life's rough patches, it can also provide her with a way forward.
Fuzzy claims that 'stories link us to our mob' and Sue McPherson's book demonstrates this beautifully. It provides a glimpse into the stories of both a community and a nation, with special mention of Anzac Day and Sorry Day. However, what emerges most strongly of all in this book is the importance of family to Fuzzy's mob and the power of story.
Deborah Marshall

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