STAFF REVIEW OF THE TRAUMA CLEANER BY SARAH KRASNOSTEIN BY OWNER NATASHA (Text Publishing) Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner has been widely acclaimed and nominated / awarded. I missed getting around to it last year during the hype but was so glad when one of our bookclubs selected it as their June read. And it is definitely deserving of all the accolades! It is an excellent portrayal of an ordinary local person and her extraordinary life. I loved how it went beyond the simple trauma cleaning story which I had thought would just be the focus, and instead cleverly wove these stories in amongst the real story - the life of Sandra Pankhurst. As a Melbourne person, I loved the connection to local areas, but was horrified by the early family abuse and then marvelled at how many roads and careers Sandra took when she left home such as working at a funeral home, in a hardware store and even for a time as a prostitute. The honesty and candor and her helpfulness at all times was a real highlight.
All of these roads were during Sandra's own sexual identity and orientation awareness and leading her to embark on transgender surgery at a time when it was still quite new, and done at great risk to the individual and also by the doctors putting their careers on the line. It was amazing to read how Sandra was married both as a man and as a woman and the impact on those around her. The final section dealing with the issue of disconnection was important in explaining Sandra's inability to see the impact on her ex wife and kids. I definitely felt sad for her abandoned children and found it understandable that one of them had not wanted to reconnect.
Sarah's investigation into the many varied trauma cleaning jobs (hoarding, death, murder, etc) and Sandra's workers was fascinating and I liked how they were dispersed throughout without judgement by Sandra or Sarah. It makes you feel empathy for people in these situations, and a little heartbroken to think there are such neglected / pained people in our own community. And also how these kinds of situations don't discriminate and can affect learned or wealthy people, not just the poor or uneducated.
It was appreciated that Sarah admitted to the limitations of recording ALL the facts as reliant on Sandra's unreliable memory, and also how Sarah pursued interviewing other key people from Sandra's past to fill in some of these gaps. Her commitment to researching thoroughly this process indicates it become more than just a story but a deep interest in the life of Sandra and those around her. And in this way it reminded me at times of the writing of Helen Garner.
What really made this book stand out, was not only the interwoven structure and the subject matter but also the beautiful and evocative writing. And even though I loved it on audiobook which was excellently read by Rachael Tidd (complete with deep gravelly voice for Sandra just as you'd imagine it would be), I would have loved to have underlined so many beautiful phrases because they so accurately pinpointed so many wonderful moments, and vignettes from a remarkable life. Highly recommended 9/10 #SarahKrasnostein #TheTraumaCleaner #staffbookreview #staffpick #truestory #aussieauthor #aussielife #transgender #traumacleaning #books #bookreview
RELATIVITY BY ANTONIA HAYES – $32.99rrp
AUSSIE ADULT DEBUT FICTION
I love reading new authors; not knowing their style, their plot preoccupations, or where they will take me! This story about 12yo Ethan and his mum Claire was completely gripping, closing over me, drawing me in and not letting me go easily! I honestly felt annoyed when interrupted by any mundane life tasks because the story felt so real, so present, so necessary to pursue, and stays with you long afterwards! Ethan is a talented, science obsessed kid and yes a little odd that leads to misunderstandings and bullying. He also has some anger management issues. Claire is a great mother, trying hard to meet her son’s needs as well as cope with his growing curiosity about his absent dad. What adds an interesting dimension is we get all three perspectives of mother, son and estranged dad / husband and see how the clash of life together again raises long held pain, secrets and dilemmas. Hayes’ writing is raw and realistic and her treatment of sensitive and topical issues (that i won’t give away becuase it would spoil the revelations made) both well handled and illuminating. Such aching and beautiful moments to savour. A definite must read and great one for bookclubs.
THE KILLING OF BOBBI LOMAX BY CAL MORIARTY – $29.99
Set in the 1980s, this debut crime novel has its emphasis on good old fashioned police work and not CSI like modern gadgets etc. Three bombs go off in a 24 hour period, the first killing the title character, Bobbi Lomax then Gudsen and finally seriously wounds Clark Houseman, a beloved rare books dealer. Panic grips the city and it is up to detectives Sinclair and Alvarez to work out the possible connections, delve into political and religious corruption, money trails, and solve the case quickly. Multiple reasons surface, and puts the focus squarely on who, what and why. Making sense of the plethora of characters is made easier with a cast list at the front. This straightforward crime thriller is compelling and makes you appreciate the ground work and wits of the main police characters who are a great team duo to follow and like.
FREEDOM RIDE by SUE LAWSON – $17.95 RRP
2015 marks 50 years since a group of Sydney university students led by Charles Perkins, organised a bus tour of regional NSW areas to draw attention to the dismal living and health conditions, and discrimination faced by Aboriginal people. This bus tour became known as The Freedom Ride.
Taking its name from this event, Sue Lawson’s latest book, weaves the story of Robbie around real events, and follows him from a place of ignorance to awareness and action. An enthralling narrative, Freedom Ride is at times confronting, laying bare parts of our not too distant history that aren’t pretty.
Robbie is a regular teenage boy living in Walgaree with his overbearing, and at times, nasty grandmother and father. Right from the start you get the impression that while Robbie accepts how things are, both his rather controlled life and the racist views and actions of his community, he is open to seeing things a different way. Enter Barry, a local Walgaree man who has just returned from London to run the town’s caravan park. Barry offers Robbie a summer job, and while working together Robbie is introduced to new things, new ideas and new people. Barry also offers work to a Micky, a local aboriginal boy, and as a result suffers quite a backlash from the towns people and the people staying at the park. Word goes out that a bus of university students will be coming through town and the community is decidedly against it, but Barry offers them somewhere to stay. As tensions build in town, Robbie discovers secrets within his own family and takes a stand. As things come to a head, you can’t put this book down.
The language and sense of place created by Lawson is vivid, and she hasn’t shied away from using the harsh language that is of the time. Leaving them out would have glossed over the hatred and racism, defeating the purpose of the book. Freedom Ride is a great read, I was utterly enthralled. Robbie is a great protagonist, relatable while still of his time. For me this story has highlighted how far we have come, but in many ways makes me think there is still a great deal to do.
Day Boy by Trent Jamieson $29.99rrp
ADULT FANTASY (OKAY FOR 15+)
Adapting a short story into a full-length novel is not an easy feat, but speculative writer Trent Jamieson does an exceptional job in expanding and creating an entirely unique and satisfying vampire mythology for his novel Day Boy. Vampires don’t react well with daytime, so Day Boys are present to serve their vampiric Masters. Mark, our protagonist, has a Master in Dain who embodies a father more than the demanding monsters other Day Boys obey. But when the time comes to graduate into a Master himself and undergo the Change, Mark must deal with the internal struggle of following the rules of his society or become and then remain a man to save his humans.
Jamieson’s novel is more an examination of males, of men and monsters, the deeper male bonds, and the needed support those relationships have in a boy’s slow but gradual evolution into a man. Day Boy is a novel that will appeal to all types of readers, realistic and fantasy alike, teens and adults. There’s something truly magical about this novel, and so much that I liked about Day Boy that I can’t specifically point out why it is.
In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume $29.99rrp
THE ACCIDENT SEASON BY MOIRA FOWLEY-DOYLE $19.99rrp
Every October, Cara and her family are prone to accidents and their lives become carefully controlled as they avoid anything from bruises and grazes to broken legs and broken hearts. And then there are the tragedies…but nobody speaks of those. The family don’t know why they are cursed to tumble, fall and break. But the greatest mystery of all is Elsie, a girl who, though ever-present in Cara’s life, doesn’t appear to be present at all…
The Accident Season is a gorgeously written, haunting tale that puts a original magical spin on human tragedy. Magical Realism isn’t a genre you see a lot of in Young Adult and the dash of horror that Fowley-Doyle adds is just enough to make you slightly uncomfortable. I loved how different this was to anything I’ve read in a long time.
It’s impossible to talk about The Accident Season without giving away its secrets, so instead I’m going to tell you how it made me feel: on edge, spellbound and distorted. It’s the kind of book that, even after finishing it, I’m not entirely sure what took place and what didn’t between the pages and I love that this book messed with my mind so thoroughly.
Eerie, lyrical and atmospheric, The Accident Season is an instant winner for Young Adult fiction.
Girl at War – Sara Nović $29.99
Ana Jurić, a 10-year-old resident of Zagreb lives a carefree and happy life. She enjoys playing with her best friend and spending time with her family (especially her younger sister). That is, until civil war breaks out, and Ana and her loved ones are affected by the brutality caused as a result of the Bosnian-Croat conflict. Ten years on after fleeing to America, Ana makes a decision to return to Croatia, and face the trauma and horror she once encountered.
Broken into three parts, the novel focuses on revealing both Ana’s past and present hardships. We are given an insight into just how detrimental the war became not only for Ana, but also those around her.
I picked up this book firstly, due to the interesting cover, but when I read the synopsis I was quickly interested to find out what lay within the pages. I have little knowledge of the events that occurred during the Bosnian-Croat civil war, but developed some understanding despite this novel being a piece of historical ‘fiction’.
The writing was of an overall high standard, and nothing was too hard to understand, especially if you speak a little Slovenian (I do not!). Nović’s use of the foreign language, despite only being characterised by short phrases really adds another dimension to the writing.
Undeniably, Nović has a talent for writing and her knowledge of both cultures suggests she has either studied or experienced them (Hint: Nović has lived in both Croatia and the US.)