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Aug 28

Review: Dust by Christine Bongers

I received this book for free from ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Dust by Christine BongersDust by Christine Bongers
Published by Random House Australia on 2009
Genres: fiction, general fiction, young adult fiction
Pages: 232
Source: ARC received from publisher
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Evocative and earthy . . . from a powerful new Australian voice. Twelve-year-old Cecilia Maria was named after saints and martyrs to give her something to live up to. Over my dead body, she vows. In the blinding heat of 1970s Queensland, she battles six brothers on her side of the fence, and the despised Kapernicky girls, lurking on the other side of the barbed wire. Secrets are buried deep, only to surface decades later when Cecilia drags her own reluctant teenagers back home to dance on a grave and track down some ghosts. Warm but tough-minded, Dust glitters with a rare and subtle wit, illuminating the shadows that hang over from childhood and finding beauty in unexpected places.

The themes raised by this very appealing novel are quite serious and I was surprised at the impact the story had on me.

At the most surface level, I enjoyed the interaction between Cecilia and her brother Punk and the descriptions of their Australian country town home. As a child of the 70s, I found myself transported back in time reading Bongers’ descriptions of the family home and lifestyle.

Many of the issues Cecilia faces, peer pressure and the desire to fit in, sibling rivalry, school expectations, friendship issues etc, are common to most children growing up and these descriptions also stirred up memories for me of some of the high school events that seemed so significant and earth-shattering at the time.

At the most significant level, Bongers’ descriptions of the experiences of the Kapernicky sisters at the hands of their step-father are very challenging. Although the descriptions are never given in graphic detail, the obvious suffering and trauma experienced by these two girls has a significant impact on Cecilia when she becomes aware of it and this flows through to the reader.

It is an indication of the quality of the writing that Dust remains an appealing story despite the confronting issue of child sexual abuse that it raises. Perhaps it is because this subject is raised in the context of the impact on Cecilia and her character, rather than the direct impact on the victims of the abuse, that Bongers is able to maintain the flow of the story and keep this issue in balance with the other themes.

Parents should exercise discretion when giving this book to their children given some of the more confronting issues it raises. There are references to both the abuse of the Kapernicky sisters and general teenaged sexual references that may not be suitable for younger or more sensitive readers.

This is the debut novel for this Australian author and I would certainly be keen to read any further novels that she produces.

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