Her by Garry Disher
Hachette Australia, 2017. ISBN 9780733638541
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Australian history. Slavery. Child abuse. Women. Poverty. Disher, a master of language, has written a taut and highly disturbing story set in the early 1900's that will linger in thoughts for a long time. One day a scrap man came to a hut 'with his wife, who had cost him twelve shillings, once upon a time, and a wispy girl, who had cost him ten' pg. ix. The impoverished family had nothing to sell, but the scrap man went out to the shed with the father of the eleven children and took away the little girl, wearing a flour-bag dress, buying her for nine shillings and sixpence.
She doesn't have a name, but is known as You; the scrap man is He or Him, and there is Big Girl and Wife. She has much work to do, tending the horse and the rabbit traps and hopes to run away one day. The women are slaves, working tirelessly making toasting forks and cushion covers from scraps and suffer dreadfully at the hands of the scrap man. As You grows she is taken on the wagon with the scrap man as he travels around country Victoria, selling his shoddy wares and buying bits of metal and material. She learns to steal and lie and when the Education man comes to see the family, she has to pretend to be simple so that she doesn't have to go to school. As she grows, the scrap man abuses her sexually, while spending any money they make on women and alcohol.
This is a searing tale, shining a light on the terrible plight of the helpless women, regarded so poorly that they didn't even have names or any power at all. The background of the pioneers and Australian bush, the small country towns and the push for men to volunteer for the army in the Great War, give readers a solid taste of Australian history at this time.
I read this book in one sitting, wondering what would happen to the young child. Extensive reading group notes at the end of the book also opened up many avenues of thought about the vivid language and the occurrences in the novel. Suggested further reading gives a list of Disher's historical works for children and some classic Australian road stories.