Where We Begin


Publication Date: 25 Aug. 2020
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781743535660

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    Seventeen-year-old Anna is running into the night. Fleeing her boyfriend, her mother, and everything she has known.

    She is travelling into the country, to the land and the grandparents she has never met, looking for answers to questions that have never been asked.

    For every family has secrets.

    But some secrets -- once laid bare -- can never be forgiven.

    Information

    Book Type: Senior High
    Age Group: 16 years +
    Traffic Lights:
    Class Novel: No
    Good Reads Rating: 5/5
    Literary Rating: 5/5

    Review

    Anna, 17, aspires to be a doctor and is a self-confessed "swot'. While on her study break, she takes the bus from her home in Sydney to country Victoria. She leaves a note for her alcoholic mother, who is currently at a conference in New Zealand, letting her know that she's gone and that she "wishes things could have been different.' Anna's father doesn't know yet that she has left; he is away visiting his dying father in Germany. Anna arrives at the home of her maternal grandparents, whom she has never met, in the dark of night and in a tangle of secrets.

    Anna's mother Cathy never talked about her parents, and Anna has never met them. Her grandmother, Bette, had written a letter to Cathy asking to see Anna before it's too late. Anna arrives without warning and Bette warmly welcomes her granddaughter. The home is run down but Bette tries to make Anna comfortable in Cathy's old room. In the morning, she is introduced to her grandfather Hessel -- a proud and stoic Dutch man.

    Anna fled to her grandparents because she is pregnant. The fahter is her boyfriend, Nassim. She has a medical termination kit sent to the local post office and intends to stay until it's over. Anna hasn't told Nassim about the pregnancy, or about leaving -- he thinks she is simply in study mode at home and doesn't want to be disturbed.

    While staying with Bette and Hessel, Anna meets Leonie, the local nurse who is attending to the burn on Bette's arm. Leonie is an Indigenous woman and says that she is a family friend, but Hessel doesn't like her coming to the house. Leonie's son Basil, 15, charms Anna and tries to become her friend.

    Anna uncovers more about her mother's past when she finds an old photo of the family. The photo includes Cathy's younger brother Danny, about whom she has never spoken. Bette reveals that Danny died from a fall when he was 14. Anna takes Bette to her doctor's appointment, where the doctor questions her about the household. Bette seems to have a number of old unexplained breaks in her hands, which point to long-term abuse.

    The doctor reports the abuse to the authorities, sending Hessel into a rage. Cathy, who Leonie called, had come to bring Anna home -- but bears the brunt of her father's fury. Hessel chokes Cathy until Danny attacks him. It's revealed that Danny is not dead, but that he now lives with a traumatic brain injury and Basil is his son. Danny and Leonie were best friends as children; Hessel, a racist, tried to keep them apart. When their friendship developed into romance, Hessel nearly beat Danny to death. Cathy has PTSD from witnessing this, which led to her alcoholism.

    Anna returns with her mother, with a new understanding for her trauma and illness. Hessel dies from his injuries, but Anna testifies that Danny was acting in defence. Cathy supports Anna through her termination and Anna tells Nassim the truth; they reconcile. The family, without the influence of Hessel, begins to heal and Anna is accepted into medical school.

    A haunting tale about family, trauma and secrets. Nieman addresses colonial history, racism and prejudice, with permission from the Dja Dja Wurrung community to tell the story of the Blood Hole Massacre and explore the trauma of First Nations people. Beautiful prose captures dark and uncomfortable themes, and an overall message of survival after deeply scarring violence.

    Themes

    family violence, trauma, loss, PTSD, indigenous, teenage pregnancy, racism/prejudice, rural/regional Australia

    Content Notes

    1. Language: shit x 54, f*ck x 32, bitch x 5. 2. Anna discusses losing her virginity to her ex-boyfriend (p. 18). Anna kisses Nassim and he gets an erection (p. 20). Anna finds out she is pregnant (p. 39). Masturbation (p. 145). Anna kisses Basil before he tells her they are cousins (p. 225). 3. Hessel beats Danny, resulting in a traumatic brain injury (p. 302). Hessel is abusive towards his wife Bette. Discussion of pregnancy termination. Anna decides to medically terminate her pregnancy.

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