P is for Pearl reviewed by Tara

When a stranger loses control outside the café where Gwen works and begins throwing tables through the windows, it stirs up thoughts of her mother and brother. Thoughts she has literally been running to escape. Although it’s been over a decade since they died, Gwen can vividly remember her mother and is still driven to please her. She is concerned to realise that she struggles to remember her brother.

Gwen’s father seems distant, caught up in his new family and reluctant to talk about the past. In contrast her step-mother persistently tries to get Gwen to open up. Gwen is constantly suspicious of the intentions of her step-brother Tyrone, and is badgered by her half-sister, Evie, to create plots for revenge on Tyrone. She finds refuge in her friends Loretta and Gordon, and in running.

Things at school have also been unsettled by the arrival of two new students, Amber and Ben, who are staying with their aunt at Songbrooke, formerly an artists’ commune. They are secretive about their past and their profiles on Facebook are only two weeks old, with a total of two pictures per profile. It is as if they dropped from the sky. Amber is mean and takes a dislike to Gwen, warning her to stay away from Ben. However, ‘Handsome Ben’ seems nice. He shares Gwen’s love of running and literally keeps running into her. Despite Ben’s interest, Gwen is cautious about the pair and the history they are hiding.

There are a lot of secrets behind the characters that gradually become known. The tension and mystery create good intrigue and there is a sprinkling of humour to balance the plot. Gwen is anxious and sleep-deprived and trying to process decisions about her future, as well as the trauma of the incident at the restaurant and the ghosts of her past. Many young adults would identify with the complexity of her life, the issues at school, the uncertainty of her friendship with Ben and her sense of grief and loss. It is a realistic depiction of life in a rural Australian town, in this case the Tasmanian town, Clunes. The story also explores issues of mental health, family issues, belonging and the inaccuracy of first impressions. It is suitable for readers across the young adult range.

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