The hidden girl by Louise Bassett

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Melita has Indonesian heritage and scholarship-worthy Indonesian language skills, so the school trip to Indonesia is high on her ‘Must do’ list. However, her past behaviour during Year 9 at another school still hangs over her and is a secret blight on her new school experience. Unfortunately, her recently ‘controlled’ impulsivity falls apart when she defends a fellow student from a bully’s actions and attending the school trip is at risk because of it. Attending counselling is essential, but a risky choice made in the unattended office gives her access to a diary written entirely in Indonesian, that opens up a world of uncertainty and a mystery that is waiting to be solved. While on the excursion she is able to piece together clues, and she also meets another Melbourne teenager, Michael, who helps her translate and seek answers to the mysterious diary’s sad tale written by Indonesian girl, Devi. But impulsivity again has Melita on the second strike of a ‘three- strikes and you’re out’ punishment. The return to Melbourne does not stop her from pursuing answers, and hiding her search for justice for the mysterious Devi. Unfortunately, Melita and Michael’s search leads them to a deeply disturbing place and their desire to rescue Devi puts their own security at risk. Can they go to the police or will Melita’s own past get in the way? Has she taken too many risks in the pursuit of justice for the vulnerable Devi? Can good come from poor decisions?

This is an intriguing tale, crossing cultures and language and also revealing the awfulness of sex trafficking – not an easy topic for teen fiction. There are also choices made by Melita (and perhaps also Michael) that demonstrate a teen tendency to push boundaries rather than consider consequences. However, they also pursue justice for a vulnerable person that they only know because of a stolen diary. The story of Devi is revealed through the translation of her diary entries. Melita and Michael’s pursuit of truth is only possible because her parents’ priorities (even though they are also social justice focused) have caused them to be distracted from their daughter, a school staff member has also made an unwise choice, and Melita is prepared to ‘fly close to the flame’. The confronting nature of sex-slavery is not described in much detail, but even the veiled references are still awful. There are moments of simple romance developing between Michael and Melita that serve as a contrast to the awful abuse that is hidden in suburban streets.

Themes: Mystery, Sex trafficking, Slavery, Indonesia, School life, Choices, Bullying, Romance.

Carolyn Hull