Thursday, February 24, 2011

[Review] Being Here by Barry Jonsberg (Aussie YA)

Title: Being Here
Author: Barry Jonsberg
Publication (dd/mm/yy): 01/02/11
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Price: $19.99
Source: Review Copy (from publisher)
Age: 14+
Pages: 250
My Rating:

The boy sat in the branches of the fifth tree on the left, his scuffed boots dangling. Leah turned her eyes up. His face was heavily freckled, his eyes large, brown and almond-shaped. His hair stuck out at wild angles. 'Hello,' she said.

Sixteen-year-old Carly is interviewing Leah Cartwright for her local history project. But Leah resists, determined instead to tell her own story: that of a lonely child on an isolated farm, a girl whose only escape is into the world of books. And when Adam appears in the orchard Leah discovers a friend. A secret friend.

Leah draws Carly in with the magic of story - to her present, her past, her secrets, and her unique friendship with Adam.

Being Here is a beautifully told story about a girl whose rich imagination rescues her from a grim reality, and an unlikely boy who changes everything. A compelling novel about love, faith and consequences.

My thoughts: 

Sixteen-year-old Carly aims to interview Leah Cartwright, oldest in her nursing home, for her Social History assignment at school. What Carly is looking for is irrelevant; Leah is going to tell the story of her childhood, which she believes must be passed on to a younger generation by any means necessary. Leah's childhood is constricting institutionalised religion, farming life and therefore solitude, a not-so-imaginary imaginary friend and murder. Through this, the two are inextricably bound together, forming a most unlikely friendship. And while Carly claims not to have any stories of her own to tell, Leah's already started figuring her out.


Given my little synopsis up above, Being Here doesn't sound like much, does it? That just comes down to poor writing; I don't have the right words right now to succinctly describe to you all the fundamental aspects and plot-points explored in this book. Being Here packs a hell of a punch. Jonsberg weaved with competency the book around several different topics that would have been extremely relevant in its context (early-mid 1900s rural Australia), with Mrs Cartwright passing in and out of the past and present.

The plot was simple and calming by the fact that it is an old lady reminiscing on her younger years. Leah explains over and again that age has given her time to reflect on the things that she didn't understand back when she was a young'un, and I think that's something that many people will be able to relate to: that time gives us perspective on that which seemed unusual or unfamiliar in the past. Leah's story was tightly wound together and was able to elicit several different emotions out of me, mainly intrigue and quiet distaste. I think there were many cases where you need to imagine the context before judging -- e.g. while in modern day society we might just call her mother a crazy bitch, she was closed-off and was under the notion that the deeds she had done were in fact, acts of eradicating evil, although we may not see it that way.

I found Leah and Carly both endearing characters. Leah is filled to the brim with knowledge and wisdom over having lived a whole lifetime and reading a whole library of books. Carly is high-spirited and cheerful on the outside, but she has doubts too. I liked that there was life around the nursing home, that Leah was extremely close friends with another resident/patient there. I also liked that the nurses were given a due amount of attention.

Her story seemed almost like a fairytale, unreal. At first, Leah tells it in third person, but slowly she becomes so immersed in her memories that it is though she is back there, and that's when she begins to speak in first person. I enjoyed seeing how the telling of her memories affected her in her vivid dreams. That said, by the end of the book I was able to make an even more personal connection between Leah and "the girl" in the story. Adam was sweet and I liked seeing the development of her relationship with this boy as he becomes more and more real. As I've said earlier, the girl's mother is a complex individual. The issue of her being good or evil is a bit of an iffy one, because she so believed in the word of God, that there was only good and evil. No in-betweens. She murdered those who were in the way of the ideal paradise, for her. She even wrote a 2000 page story: (spoiler-ish) "trash", all just her personal culminations of the most "sanctified", idealistic place that had accumulated over time because of her innate Christian belief.

I like the allusions to Adam, the Forbidden Fruit (apple on the cover, hello?) and other biblical references also. The presentation of the book is amazing. The prologue is introduced with an outlined leaf. [link] Every chapter is illustrated with floating leaves that are simple yet effective. [link] Furthermore, the cover is detailed and feels great. Kind of funny thing to say, but I like running my nails around the apple, as the whole apple is bevelled (I think that's the word...) minus the title. And there is also immaculate detail with the patterns in the background, making the whole cover feel smooooth. :)

Being Here is a captivating, realistic read that digs deep inside the psyche of a woman during her last years. Leah's story has a little something for anyone to relate to, whether it is the feeling of home, or withstanding dominating authorative figures, or just reveling in past memories.


First Line

"I face a window."

Random Quote

"Faces, places, sounds. Some are now. Some are then. I cannot sift them. One face looms above me. It has red hair and I should know it. I'm sitting in a dusty corner, reading a book. The words don't make sense." (p. 64)


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I have received this review copy in return for an honest review. 

Challenge: Aussie YA Challenge 2011
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