P is for Pearl…
About the Book:
Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family.
She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically.
And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on.
But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.
From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong.
I was so excited about the release of P is for Pearl because it’s been less than a year since Ache came out and I am a massive fan of Eliza Henry Jones. Her novels are always what I like to term, ‘quietly beautiful’, and in the case of her latest, P is for Pearl, this novel can quite simply be summed up as: P is for Perfect. Because it is. It really is the perfect novel.
Gwen is seventeen, in Year 11 at high school, living in a small coastal town in Tasmania with her father, step-mother, step-brother and half-sister. She has a couple of really great best friends and some other adults in her life that she can count on. Yet, an unsettling incident occurs one night while she is working at her part-time job and this sends Gwen’s life into a spin. All of sudden, she is remembering her mother and her little brother, the two people who are no longer with her, and she begins to question everything about herself and her life up to this point.
Once again, Eliza brings her knowledge of grief and trauma to the table and the result is a stunning examination of the effects loss can have, in the long term, on those who are left behind. The grief is no longer fresh for Gwen, but the loss remains sharp. After the incident at the café, Gwen begins to keep a diary of her thoughts, and all of these orbit around the death of her mother and little brother as she tries to make sense out of their passing at the same time as trying desperately to remember who they were. Her own sense of self becomes flimsy and she begins to enter a period of being lost, questioning everything and not really feeling as though she’s getting any solid answers.
There’s just so much about this novel that I loved. It’s a novel that makes you really appreciate the importance of being straight with children when it comes to the ugly truth about loved ones. The impulse to protect is strong but the implications of not being transparent can be far reaching.
The characters in this novel were excellent. I loved Loretta and Gordon, two terrific best friends to Gwen and the dialogue that bantered back and forth between this little group was like gold. They cracked me up so many times. I loved Biddy, with her steady support and Evie, with her wicked little sense of humour and obvious adoration of Gwen. I loved Gwen’s Dad, who was so obviously trying to preserve the memory of Gwen’s mother for her, while still internally grieving for the loss of his precious little son. And I loved Tyrone, best of all, because he was such an amazing brother to Gwen, a deep person despite what he liked to project to others, his devotion to Gwen apparent and ever present. I really loved him a lot. He’s the sort of young man who will make someone a great husband one day.
Gwen was a terrific protagonist. She really got under my skin in the best of ways. I found myself getting so invested in her, and I wanted nothing more than to reach into the book and give her a motherly embrace. She was wise beyond her years in some ways, and still very much finding her feet in others. I enjoyed the interactions between Gwen and Ben as they stumbled along finding each other, navigating the storm of their teenage attraction and balancing it out within the space they were currently inhabiting. Gwen just needed the truth. She needed to know who her mother was before she died and she needed to know what her mother was like leading up to her death; without this knowledge, it was impossible for her to make inroads into settling her own pain. The ripple effect of being protected from the truth, not only by her father, but also by her step-mother and even her step-brother; all of them with the very best of intentions and yet, what she needed to know was all that she was being protected from. How the family came to this realisation and the outcomes was beautifully rendered.
P is for Pearl is such an authentic novel. The setting was very much a part of the interactions between the characters and for Gwen, and Tyrone, the beach in particular was a big player. It was a go to place for them, despite the biting cold, which I could feel just as much as they could. (It was raining all weekend while I curled up with this novel, so the atmosphere was well and truly set). Eliza Henry Jones is fast on her way to being a master storyteller, and I am just so excited about her talent. Her words are so clean and quiet, so contained, yet she stirs within me the deepest of emotion. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.
P is for Pearl was published by HarperCollins Australia on the 19th February, 2018.
About the Author:
Eliza Henry Jones was born in Melbourne in 1990. She was a Young Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in 2012 and was a recipient of a Varuna residential fellowship for 2015. She has qualifications in English, psychology and grief, loss and trauma counselling. She is currently completing honours in creative writing – exploring bushfire trauma – and works in community services. She lives in the Dandenong Ranges with her husband and too many animals.