Told in the conversational first-person voice of Aboriginal teenager, Fuzzy Mac, Grace Beside Me by Sue McPherson shined a light on the life of Aboriginal children and teens who live with their grandparents- the old school ways, the old school values, the love and the high expectations. If that’s you, you might have a lot to relate to in this book.
Both Carl and I spent time growing up living with our grandparents. My grandmother had the same rules about washing, although not as strict as McPherson describes Fuzzy’s grandmother!
The storytelling reminds me so much of the way Aboriginal people tell stories- people, family and relationship focussed, and sometimes a little round about. Not always the way traditional European stories unfold- which leads to those used to that narrative structure feeling as though McPherson’s story is a little slow in parts and lost in others.
When I first moved to Halls Creek (in the Kimberleys at the top of Western Australia) everyone would introduce themselves and part of that was to tell me who they were related to. At first I was kind of like ‘that’s great… but why are you telling me this?!’ because back home in the big city (my hometown Geelong in Victoria is the second largest city in the state) even if I told anyone who I was related to nobody would have ever met them or cared! In the small remote Aboriginal town of Halls Creek though I soon realised that sharing your family connections was a chance to instantly connect and understand the other person’s place in the community. It wasn’t long before I was asking people who they were related to and then sharing my own stories and experiences that I had had with their relatives as a way to get to know and appreciate someone new I had met. I think the same kind of goes for this story. Through Fuzzy’s connections with her relatives, friends and neighbours we learn about Fuzzy, her life, her culture, her values.
I loved the snippets of Australian history and the impact it had on Fuzzy’s grandparents and subsequent generations. Reading about her grandmother (a victim of the Stolen Generation) response to the Apology was powerful. We can easily look up the words to the Apology but often overlooked is how it was so emotional, raw and significant. I also loved hearing about her grandfather’s experience as an Aboriginal soldier during war- how they were not allowed to enlist, the attitudes between soldiers while at war and then their treatment back home. The kidnapping of South Sea Islanders to work as slaves in the sugar cane.
I respect that it hit on some of the issues that affect Aboriginal and Australian society- such as domestic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling, raped/sex work, long term effects of the Stolen Generation, depression, family values and fitting in to name a few. I would have liked more depth but I think it might be enough for a younger YA audience or general readers who are just being introduced to these topics.
There are so many interesting characters in Fuzzy’s life; it’s almost a shame McPherson didn’t focus on each story in depth as books of their own so the reader has some resolutions to the issues raised and then swept aside. There were parts where I found Fuzzy’s dialogue (what she said) to be a bit naïve, I wanted her to have a bit more spunk and bite. Like when she says “I’ve been in trouble for so many things it’s hard to remember them all” but then goes on to list cutting flowers off favourite rose bushes, crashing pop’s car into the fence, hypnotising a chook, breaking nan’s earring and sipping sherry once. I’ve been a teenager in a little country town too… even the most goody two shoe kids have better mischief stories than that!
A book worth reading for people interested in the life and routines of the olden days, the Stolen Generation and its long lasting affects. Also, worth a read if you would like to learn more about Australian history and how Aboriginal people have been treated, or about Aboriginal families.
Soon to be made into a mini series on NITV, you might want to get reading the book it is based on first!
This book is available for purchase from Magabala Books online and bookstores. It should also be available through your local library- if it is not, it is usually free to suggests books for purchase by the library to add to their catalogue so you can borrow the book for free!
We are so excited that our book will be joining Grace Beside Me on Magabala’s publishing list in 2018. Make sure you have joined our newsletter to stay up to date with latest news, competitions and more- just pop your email in the box at the bottom of this page.
What were your favourite parts of the book?