Where we begin by Christie Nieman
Pan Macmillan Australia, 2020. ISBN: 9781743535660.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Anna doesn't want anything to stand in the way of achieving her dream to become a doctor; she sets herself a strict study schedule, and Nassim her new boyfriend is understanding and supportive. But the secret Anna carries every day suddenly explodes when Nassim finally gets to meet her mother, Cathy, whose fierce alcohol-fuelled reaction to their relationship seems fired by racism.
Anna goes on the run; she tracks down the family that has always been hidden from her, her fragile grandmother, Bette, and severe grandfather, Hessel, living on an isolated run-down property in the shadow of a ruined Victorian mansion. But the mystery only deepens, as she gradually becomes aware of other secrets that have been kept hidden for so long.
Nieman's writing kept me enthralled, and while there are hints along the way that had me guessing, this is not a predictable story and the ultimate revelation is shocking. At the same time there is an authenticity to the characters and relationships - the tension between Anna and her mother goes very deep and is not something that is easily resolved. Other tensions of violence and intimidation are equally well described.
There is also a beautiful portrayal of the kind, caring, and exuberant Basil, the young Aboriginal boy, son of her mother's childhood friend Leonie. Growing closer to Leonie and Basil, Anna has to confront her own prejudices and lack of knowledge of the land and its original custodians. Learning from Basil, she builds an appreciation of the natural environment that surrounds her.
This novel draws together themes of alcoholism, abuse, racism, and violence, but it is not a dark book. It is not oppressive. It explores the values of friendship, the continuity of life in all things, and the connectedness of everyone and everything in the world. The ending is positive but also realistic, all threads are not completely tied up; Anna still has to find her way, but there are no more secrets and the circle of people around her are willing to give it a go. It is as the publisher says a "deeply compelling coming-of-age YA novel" that both teenagers and adults will enjoy reading.
Themes: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Alcoholism, Racism, Violence, Teenage pregnancy.