A GIRL LIKE ME by Penny Matthews

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Girl Like Me is about Emmie, a 16-year-old girl living on a farm in an isolated community near Adelaide in 1901. She's just finished school, and when she's not helping out on the farm, she's writing a novel - inspired by her favourite book, Wuthering Heights. Then, a German girl from a poor but hardworking family, Bertha, is hired by her parents to help at the farm. Emmie is at first shocked by Bertha's wildness, but she can't help liking her - she's funny, and wise for her age (three years Emmie's junior). But Bertha also has terrible secrets, which she confides in Emmie - secrets that, if revealed, will have unthinkable consequences.

Oh, wow. YA Historical fiction isn't usually to my tastes, but this was brilliant. I think it was the realism everything in this book had that really appealed to me - Emmie wasn't perfect, or particularly special, but the book was written in such a way that it felt as if she were really the one writing it. You know those great contemporary YA novels that seem like they're about real teenagers? Emmie felt like a real teenager. Just one living in 1902.

I think about the first third was slightly slow, as we warmed into the story, into the lives of Emmie and Betha and those around them. If you pick this up and find yourself a bit bored through these pages, I strongly encourage you to keep reading - Emmie really grew on me as I read, and the story picked up greatly midway through. By the time I finished reading I felt emotionally drained (which, for me, tells me that the author did a very good job). I did think the excerpts from Emmie's novel didn't add anything to the narrative, and I often found myself skipping over them (they made up very little of the entire book, however, so it didn't bother me as I read).

I don't want to say much more about the story or the characters, because I'm worried I'll spoil it for you (I think it'll be a whole lot better if you come to the book not knowing what's going to happen). All I'll add is - if you like YA historical fiction (especially that inspired by true crime, or set in Australia), I strongly recommend this book.

Do you read much YA historical fiction?
Do you like books inspired by true events (i.e. crimes)?
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