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Cherry Beach (Laura McPhee-Browne, Text)

When best friends Ness and Hetty move to Canada together, it seems as though a new phase of their lives is beginning—but their shared past won’t relinquish its grip so easily. While beautiful, vulnerable Hetty is the kind of person who can wear unironed clothing and still look radiant—‘her face suited the extra creases’—Ness is awkward and shy, and knows the secret romantic feelings she’s long carried for her oldest friend will never be reciprocated. When Ness begins a new relationship, the shadow of Hetty—whose increasingly erratic behaviour is a warning sign those around her don’t know how to read—threatens to disrupt the fragile equilibrium Ness has begun to create for herself in her new home. Cherry Beach is a quiet, melancholy exploration of mental health, female friendship and desire, delicately portraying the deep ache of losing the person you’re closest to. The story is told from Ness’ perspective as she reflects on past events, and this structure can feel distancing at times, as though the reader is being held at arm’s length—but it also effectively captures Ness’ intense self-consciousness and tormented adulation of Hetty. A promising debut from Melbourne author Laura McPhee-Browne, Cherry Beach will appeal to fans of writers like Jennifer Down, Cate Kennedy and Melanie Joosten.

Carody Culver is a freelance writer, assistant editor at Griffith Review and a contributing editor at Peppermint magazine


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