Published literature for young adults by Australian Indigenous authors has taken a significant step with Grace Beside Me. The storytelling is compelling, while thoughtful, and the voice is memorable. We discover Fuzzy Mac (named for her hair) and her life in episodic chapters which form a whole narrative. Fuzzy is an authentic character: a character that seems impossible not to find living in a country town somewhere in the mountains.
Because her mother died from a heroin overdose, Fuzzy lives with her grandparents: Pop who loves words and is understanding and wise, and larger-than life Nan who has strong opinions and language, and grounds Fuzzy in the facts and truths of life. As Fuzzy get older, Nan gives more information about her mother, the sweet Koorie girl who took the wrong path but loved her baby daughter. Fuzzy’s sense of identity and strength is honed by her grandparents. She shares their ethos about community and avoids some of the traps set for teenage girls with no lack of authenticity, and real angst in one shocking scene. Grief is also genuine about racism and the treatment of Indigenous people and Kevin Rudd’s Apology forms a core of one chapter, ‘Sorry Day’.
Fuzzy and her family are all guardians of stories, believing that, ‘It’s the listening and telling of these stories that bring our people close, both young and old. Stories keep our culture strong and our faith alive.’
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (first in ‘The Tribe’ series; published by Walker Books) is another new recommended novel by an Indigenous author, Ambelin Kwaymullina. It is aimed at a younger readership and the style is very different from the realism of Grace Beside Me. Ashala Wolf is set in a post apocalyptic world after the Reckoning, 300 years earlier, which caused some people to develop special abilities. Ashala is the sixteen year old leader of The Tribe, a group of Illegals with abilities. Like the characters in Grace Beside Me, Ashala and her tribe believe that the world can’t be changed with violence, but through ideas.
by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant