This book is extraordinary.
I know that’s a big call but let me explain why after I explain the premise.
Justine is a child, abandoned by her mother when she was a toddler and barely noticed by her irresponsible and occasional father. She is brought up by her paternal grandfather who is haunted by his experience as a POW on the Burma Railway. The two desperately need each other, finding sanctuary with the chooks on an isolated property next to the Murray River. Justine is not just abandoned by her family but by the system too and lives as an outcast in the shadow of her father’s criminal activities. As she grows into her teenage self, she encounters great difficulties which make little sense to her until she makes a decision.
From the first page to the last, the writing is exquisite. Told from the point of view of Justine, Laguna masters the language to expertly capture the essence of young innocence and bewilderment in an aggressive and incomprehensible world of males. The drawing of the characters is masterful. You want to reach into the pages and pluck Justine from her surroundings and her poverty, to reassure her that life can be better. But we can’t, and when there are glimmers of hope, they’re dashed. Her pain is our pain as we observe Justine trying to make sense of her situation and when she decides to wrestle control of her life from the incompetence of others, it’s gripping.
The story and the writing resonated long after the book’s ending and remained with me, weeks after finishing.
I think this maybe my book of the year. Yet it’s only February.