This month’s round up of reviews of books by diverse Australian women writers, or books featuring themes of diversity, is a double header for June and July 2020.
Our lovely reviewers have been busy again, linking up 82 reviews of 59 books over the 2 months. It seems like we’ve all been catching up on our ‘to be read’ lists as well, with quite a few reviews of books published earlier than 2020.
If you’re looking for your next read, I hope you find something here that piques your interest.
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Jonathan Shaw reviewed Stone Sky Gold Mountain, by Mirandi Riwoe, an historical fiction novel set in 19th-century North Queensland. I learned something new – I had no idea that northern Queensland even had a gold rush!
Jonathan applauds Riwoe’s storytelling and her ability to weave Australian literary traditions into a new tradition where:
Chinese characters take centre stage, dealing with harsh oppression as well as the generally harsh conditions, escaping into an opium haze, negotiating issues around language and names (‘Jimmy’ or ‘Wui Hing’), reaching tentatively and sometimes tenderly across the racial divide, communing with the ghosts of those left behind, balancing the yearning for home against the appeal of the freedoms in the new land.
Elementals: Battle Born by Amie Kaufman
Ashleigh from The Book Muse reviewed the 3rd book in Amie Kaufman‘s middle grade Elementals series: Battle Born. Hailing it as “thoroughly enjoyable”, this epic fantasy adventure of humans, scorch dragons and ice wolves:
shows that diversity comes in all forms – and all of it – what we see, what we don’t, and everything in between – is what makes our worlds – real and imagined – richer and more enjoyable and relatable for a wide variety of readers.
How To Be Australian by Ashley Kalagian Blunt
Cass Moriarty reviewed How To Be Australian, Ashley Kalagian Blunt‘s memoir about moving from Canada to Australia. Subtitled “An Outsider’s View on Life & Love Down Under”, it sounds like just the pick-me-up book we all might need right now. Cass calls it:
funny, self-deprecating, honest, sharply observant, curious, indignant, tender, thoughtful and thought-provoking.
The Octopus and I by Erin Hortle
Claire from Claire’s Reads and Reviews reviewed The Octopus and I, Erin Hortle‘s serious and beautifully written novel about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with her new body after breast cancer and double mastectomy.
After hiding out in light romance novels for a while, Claire decided to try something different. This book turned out to be just what she needed:
I really slowed down to read this novel, it was beautifully written and the octopuses and the other sea life that play a part in telling the story were at times touching and beautiful and at other times quite violent and disturbing.
Out by Angela May George and Owen Swan
Dark Matter Zine reviewed Out, a “heartbreaking yet triumphant” picture book to help young readers understand the plight of asylum seekers. Memorable and enjoyable, it’s also a useful tool to develop children’s empathy:
This story enables grown up and young readers to discuss why people must leave their home countries, why families are forced to separate but also how they can enjoy a new life and a new culture.
Dragon’s Gate by Vivian Bi
Jennifer Cameron-Smith reviewed Dragon’s Gate, by Vivian Bi, a novel about the importance of storytelling as an escape mechanism during the Cultural Revolution in China. Jennifer certainly found that this story took her away from the present day for a while:
What an amazing novel! I picked it up and could hardly bear to put it down. The setting and the role of storytelling (as well as the actual stories) held my attention.
More reviews of books featuring diversity
The Yield, Tara June Winch‘s 2019 novel, received extensive coverage by our reviewers, following its win of the 2020 Miles Franklin award. Cass Moriarty called it “compelling”, Amanda from Mrs B’s Book Reviews found it “a rich and remarkable odyssey into Indigenous people and their culture”, while Maureen Helen wrote that it “expanded and deepened my understanding of Australian Aboriginal history.” and Calzean appreciated that “…in the end there is hope, happiness and finding your place in all of this chaos.”
The Coconut Children, by Vivian Pham, was reviewed by Underground Writers. A “moving and thought-provoking read… The Coconut Children is an emotional and gritty coming-of-age story centred around two teens and their immigrant families” in south-western Sydney.
Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling, by Larissa Behrendt explores the stories of Eliza Fraser, a British woman who was shipwrecked in 1836 and landed on K’Gari Island (later called Fraser Island) off the coast of Queensland in a lifeboat. Georgia Rose described it in her review as “a great little book”.
The Rose and the Thorn, by Indrani Ganguly, was reviewed by Gretchen at Thoughts Become Words: “The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them… I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.”
Growing Up Aboriginal In Australia was reviewed by The Australian Legend, who notes of this 2018 anthology: “Like most of you I was brought up in an Australia that believed it didn’t have a race problem. Even now I am surrounded by people who are offended when it is pointed out, yes we do. Those people are probably beyond educating, but hopefully schoolkids everywhere are reading and discussing this book.”
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal, by Anna Whately, received 3 more rave reviews, from Georgia Rose (“I could not put this book down.), Nalini Haynes (“made me laugh and cry”) and Kali Napier (“Closed the covers on this book and gave it straight to my young teen daughter.”).
Too Much Lip, Melissa Lucashenko‘s muti award-winning novel (which surely needs no introduction) continued to garner reviews 2 years after publication. Jennifer Cameron-Smith described it as “‘in your face’ confronting” and Kali Napier gave it 4.5 stars.
Reading for diversity
I hope you’ll consider adding one or more of these books to your reading list. You can also check out some of our recent Diversity round ups or have a look through the reading lists on our Reading for diversity page.
Find more books by Australian women writers from diverse backgrounds, or featuring diverse themes, by typing “Diversity” into the keyword search on our Books reviewed page (you can sort the mega-list by genre or year of publication to narrow your search a little).
Reviewing for diversity
Keep the reviews coming! Remember to check the “Diversity” box when you link your review if the author is from a diverse background or your review touches on Indigenous issues, migrant heritage, LGBTQI/non-binary or disability experiences.
I’m Rebecca Bowyer, a storyteller, novelist and Diversity Editor here at the Australian Women Writers Challenge. I live in Melbourne, Australia with my husband and two young sons. When not at my day job or wrangling kids, I can be found writing my next novel, or writing about books, reading and writing over at Story Addict.
Maternal Instinct, my first novel, is out now.