Laurinda by Alice Pung

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Laurinda is an exclusive school for girls. At its secret core is the Cabinet, a trio of girls who wield power over their classmates - and some of their teachers.

Entering this world of wealth and secrets is Lucy Lam, a scholarship girl with sharp eyes and a shaky sense of self. As she watches the Cabinet at work, and is courted by them, Lucy finds herself in a battle for her identity and integrity. 

Funny, feisty and moving, Laurinda explores Lucy’s struggle to stay true to herself as she finds her way in a new world of privilege and opportunity.

Laurinda read more like a memoir than a novel, particularly when it came to Lucy's family and home and the suburb where she lives. I mean this in the best way possible: it felt real. I felt totally transported into her life. I loved her Mum and her Dad and her baby brother, and her working class suburb, and her hilarious friends (pre-Laurinda). Like Fiona Wood's CloudwishLaurinda is about an Asian-Australian girl on a scholarship at a prestigious private school negotiating various relationships and working out who she is and where she fits in. I love and recommend both but if you want to read something romantic with a touch of magic, Cloudwish is the go. If you want something entirely of-our-world (and more centred on private-school hierarchies and the dynamics between young women), read Laurinda.

Laurinda focuses on Lucy finding her place at the eponymous school, and a big part of that is dealing with the manipulative Cabinet, a group of girls who effectively own Laurinda. Lucy is an endearing and likeable protagonist who finds herself in an incredibly privileged environment, dealing with huge pressures and expectations from family, her community and her school. The Cabinet are borderline-evil, and do some horrific things (I cringed), but are always believably depicted. Having not attended any exclusive schools for girls, I don't have the personal experience to say whether Lucy's experiences at Laurinda are representative of reality, but they certainly seemed authentic.

There is a preponderance in this novel towards big sudden realisations, and the amount of insight Lucy has into the dynamics within her school and among her peers is perhaps difficult to imagine a teenager in the midst of it all actually having; it reads like the viewpoint of an adult looking back on it all with the benefit of hindsight. However, this didn't take away from the authenticity of the novel nor my enjoyment of it. Lucy, as an outsider, has a perspective of Laurinda, its students and its teachers that those more accustomed to and embedded in the environment simply do not have - people with privilege (of all kinds) just don't have to think about things from the point of view of those without. (I found a scene where the Cabinet and their mothers invite Lucy over to make rice paper rolls especially reflective of this.)

This was one of my favourite novels of 2015. I would recommend Laurinda to all readers of contemporary YA, especially those who want a break from romance-centred stories. Laurinda is engaging and genuine and hopeful without being sentimental. It's one of the realest YA novels I've read in recent memory, just a really gorgeous coming-of-age story, and one that I think every young person who has ever felt like an outsider will relate to.

Laurinda on the publisher's website.
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