Caution: strong language quoted in this article – not recommended for readers under 16 years of age
Title: Grace Beside Me
Author: Sue McPherson
Genre: Young Adult
Favourite part: When Fuzzy explains Gran’s meticulous rules on how to hang out the washing
Favourite quote: “I never enjoyed playing with dolls as a child so I wasn’t into Barbie, and Ken of course is a total wanker” (2012, p. 5)
A review by Kate Lomas Glendenning
Grace Beside Me is set in the small town of Laurie, and told through the eyes of the young Fuzzy Mac. The narrative borders an episodic plot given each chapter that reveals a different character, their quirks, and life story; however, Fuzzy places herself within each chapter by either hearing or telling the other characters’ story (even labelling herself as the “guardian of stories”) therefore creating a cohesive plot line. Fuzzy uses other people’s stories to express her own as a young Indigenous woman, but also to reveal how people’s lives become entwined and the impact one life has on another.
Fuzzy’s story is set over the year of 2008 and discusses important events and issues from the past to the present: Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation, slavery, racism, war, immigration, refugees, drug abuse, and violence. However, the heaviness of these issues is balanced with the acceptance and quirkiness of Fuzzy’s family and friends. McPherson weaves each event and issue into the plot with ease, and has Fuzzy explain the history and importance of the event. Fuzzy herself is greatly affected directly and indirectly by issues many young adults face: drug abuse, losing parents, and being raised by grandparents – but does not use them to label herself as different. Since Fuzzy’s mum died of a drug overdose when she was a baby, her grandparents have brought her up; a living situation McPherson classifies as normal given “over 30,000 children (have) grandparents as guardians” (2012, p. 218).
McPherson mastered the balance of humour, “I never enjoyed playing with dolls as a child so I wasn’t into Barbie, and Ken of course is a total wanker” (2012, p. 5) to the serious, “A lot of things aren’t right, Fuzzy, but that’s what happened” (2012, p. 103). The dialogue is filled with short, punchy lines, and Australian humour – which includes a fair amount of cursing!
The delightful mix of eclectic characters is the highlight of McPherson’s novel. In particular, Fuzzy’s Nan and their neighbour, Yar. Fuzzy’s Nan has premonitions that eerily come true, and has strict rules on how to hang out the washing, all down to how many pegs certain items of clothes require and where to place them on the line. Nan’s warning at the beginning, “Somethin’ big is comin’, Fuzzy” (2012, p. 61) sets a sense of unease throughout the novel. Yar, Fuzzy’s neighbour, is fond of wearing his purple tutu and insists on people wearing purple in his house to appease the fairies. Yar is a humorous relief from Bruiser Buchanan, who lives down the street and frequently abuses his wife, to Laurie’s Mayor, Mr Ridgeway, whose gaze makes Fuzzy’s arm hair tingle.
McPherson’s début novel is a breath of fresh air in Young Adult literature due to its mixture of diverse characters and the structure of entwining different character’s stories. Grace Beside Me does not shy away from discussing issues from the past and present, but in a non-invasive way, which is greatly aided by Fuzzy’s open-minded and frank manner. The novel has recently been adapted into a television series which premiered on the 16th of February 2018 on NITV. If the series is anything like the novel, viewers are in for a treat!
This book was provided free of charge to Underground Writers by Magabala Books for the purposes of reviewing.