P is for Pearl (Eliza Henry-Jones, HarperCollins)
Seventeen-year-old Gwen runs every day from the thoughts of her future and the ghosts of her past. She is unable to imagine a life beyond the boundaries of her small home town, and can’t bring herself to confront the realities of her family’s painful past. In her first novel for young adults, Eliza Henry-Jones expertly captures the heart and voice of her teen protagonist, and gives her characters the space to shine and grow without falling into stereotypes of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. While the story is an easy, romantic read, it is balanced by the complexity of the characters’ relationships. The friendship between Gwen and Loretta is given equal—if not greater—standing than the developing romance between Gwen and the new boy, Handsome Ben. Similarly, Gwen’s family dynamic, complicated by the death of her mother and younger brother, her mother’s unspoken mental illness and the tension between Gwen and her stepbrother, is beautifully handled. P is for Pearl is a complex, authentic exploration of grief, friendship, mental illness, family and love, sensitively written by a writer whose voice will resonate with teen readers.
Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne-based writer, reviewer and manager of the Stella Schools Program