The Unexpected Education of Emily Dean (Mira Robertson, Black Inc.)
It is 1944 and 14-year-old Emily Dean, the novel’s narrator, has been sent from her home in Melbourne to stay on the family farm in rural Victoria. A reluctant visitor, she must now navigate uneasy relationships with Grandmother, Uncle Cec, feisty Aunt Lydia and stern Cousin Eunice, who keep her busy with plenty of household chores. With a vivid imagination and a head full of literary classics and her own unwritten stories, Emily inhabits the awkward, painful landscape between girlhood and womanhood. Her voice is warm, humorous and engaging, and as she fumbles through various comical mishaps and misunderstandings, we’re on her side. As she gets to know her well-read Uncle William, who has returned from the war damaged in more ways than one, and befriends farmhand Claudio, an Italian prisoner of war, life leads her into unexpected territory. Living on the farm is tiring and confronting in itself, but Emily is also grappling with the perplexing mysteries of the seemingly impenetrable world of adults—love and sex, religion and politics, truth versus prejudice, and the traumatising effects of war. This uplifting story of transformation should resonate with readers who like coming-of-age stories in the vein of Amy Witting’s Isobel novels.
Paula Grunseit is a librarian, freelance journalist, editor and reviewer