Hannah’s world is in pieces and she doesn’t need the school counsellor to tell her she has deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mum, an injured dad and a dead sister, who wouldn’t have problems?
Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn’t afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?
In a family torn apart by grief and guilt, one girl’s struggle to come to terms with years of torment shows just how long old wounds can take to heal.
The Protected covers well-worn Young Adult territory: a mysterious death that has devastated a family (the circumstances of which are gradually revealed), parents without the capacity to actually parent, a troubled outsider working through grief with the aid of a kindly counsellor, a nice empathetic boy showing up. The subject matter could lean towards melodrama or predictability, but it doesn't - Hannah's voice is genuine, and there's a real credibility to the story. The emotions of the characters and the family dynamics are written with subtlety, and it's easy to become absorbed in Hannah's story.
I really enjoyed Claire Zorn's debut The Sky So Heavy, a very thought-provoking dystopian that's now made a bunch of shortlists (deservedly so). The Protected is similarly thought-provoking, and though both are set in the Blue Mountains, The Protected is very much grounded in our reality.
There's a real complexity and authenticity to the relationships within the novel, especially in the relationship between Hannah and her sister, Katie, who has passed away pre-novel and with whom Hannah had a very difficult relationship. Now, after Katie's death, she feels conflicted. The narrative jumps between the present and the past, Hannah's memories of Katie and being bullied and the lead-up to the accident. Hannah's bullying and Katie's behaviour are at times teeth-grindingly (pretend that's a word, it's the best way I can think of to describe it) awful, and Hannah is a sympathetic protagonist - so it's wonderful when things begin looking up for her, and people are kind (namely the school counsellor and Josh).
Even though Hannah's parents are consumed by grief, they are present in the novel, and Hannah's mother in particular is very well-portrayed. Hannah's parents were as real and as easy to empathise with as Hannah herself. The Protected is ultimately hopeful but it is a very dark and sad novel - focusing on bullying and devastating grief - so perhaps not one to pick up if you're after a light read. Good for a cry. I'm very much looking forward to what Claire Zorn writes next.
The Protected on the publisher's website