P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

‘I worked at the café down on the main surfing beach in town.’

Meet Gwendolyn P. Pearson. Gwen lives in a small coastal town in Tasmania with her father, step-mother (Biddy), step-brother (Tyrone) and half-sister (Evie). She remembers her mum: a colourful whirlwind of a woman, now dead. Everyone in the small community knew Gwen’s mum: some talk about her, others look at Gwen sympathetically and say nothing. Gwen tries not to think about losing her mother, or the death of her younger brother. Keeping busy helps. Gwen is now seventeen years old, in Year 11 at high school, trying to think about her future. One evening there’s an incident in the café, where Gwen and her best friend Loretta work part-time, and Gwen’s world is shaken.

Gwen tries to make sense of what happened to her mother and her brother. Trying to understand what happened leads Gwen to realise that life is more complex than she had realised. While Gwen is learning more about the deaths of her mother and brother, she is coming to terms with the fact that life is more complex than she’d thought, and that other people also have issues to deal with.

I read this novel, and then almost immediately reread it. I didn’t actually miss much on the first read, but the second read gave me an opportunity to think more about what Gwen was experiencing and her reactions. This is a beautifully written novel which explores the meaning of friendship, the impact of mental illness, as well as different configurations of family and grief. None of these issues are trivialised or glossed over. The characters came alive for me, especially Evie with her wicked sense of humour, Loretta and her dislike of sport, and Tyrone. It’s not just the story Ms Henry Jones tells, it’s the characters she peoples it with and the way in which she tells it.

I’ve been recommending this novel to family and friends. Unreservedly.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith