Review Blog

Jun 06 2019

When the ground is hard by Malla Nunn

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Allen & Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760524814
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Adele lives in the coloured neighbourhood in Swaziland, but she has nice clothes and toys and goes to an expensive boarding school because she has a white father who pays for it all. She sees him sometimes, but only when he can get the time away from his other family in South Africa. Adele has always been in with the rich girls at the school, the 'pretties', but this term she has a shock, she has been dropped by Delia, the most popular girl, and replaced by Sandi, the new girl with very wealthy parents. Not only that, she has been ejected from her usual share-room with the top-shelf girls, and now has to share with Lottie who is a charity student and comes from the native village.
Nunn describes the hierarchy of the boarding school, the trading of special food to win friends, the training of junior girls as 'pets' to wait on the top-shelf girls, and the malicious gossip and put-downs designed to keep people in their places. Adele has always been a part of that. But now she finds herself sharing with someone who doesn't play the game - Lottie has built a wall between herself and that world. She is strong and tough, and she fights back. She has her own mind. Gradually Adele finds herself being challenged by Lottie's ideas and the way she says what she thinks.
One of the ways that Adele and Lottie bond is through their shared love of books, in particular the story of Jane Eyre, a heroine they can identify with - Jane is poor and is sent to a boarding school that's even worse than theirs, she has to find a job to break free, and find her own way in life. Both Adele and Lottie know that they have to do the same.
The story is one of finding one's own personal integrity and inner strength. Adele has to rise above her fears. In the midst of threatening situations she has to find her own courage and finally learn the meaning of the African proverb 'when the ground is hard, the women dance'.
Despite their vastly different settings and time periods, When the ground is hard would make an interesting comparative study with Jane Eyre, exploring the themes of class divisions, male power and female independence, friendship and true love.
Helen Eddy

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