Eliza Henry-Jones, P is for Pearl, HarperCollins Australia, 19 Feb 2018, 296pp., $19.99 (pbk), ISBN: 9781460754931
Seventeen-year-old Gwen is in Year 11 and lives in a remote beach location in Tasmania. When a deranged man smashes the windows of the café where she works, the shattering glass triggers uneasy memories about the deaths of her mother and younger brother. Gwen, called Pearl by her mother, struggles with her recollections, trying to piece together the events and the complex family relationships that have developed with her father and step family. She discloses that she “misses” her mother, and it is this sense of loss and sorrow which overwhelms the teenage girl and makes her question the version of events she remembers and the actions and motives of those around her. She has some, but not all, of the pieces about her mother’s and brother’s deaths. The slow reveal of what really happened and why makes this an engaging novel. While Gwen is supported by her school friends, the local policeman and a friendly shopkeeper, it is the arrival of Ben, a handsome new student with a mysterious past, that gains her attention and a romance ensues. Ultimately, Gwen’s questions about her mother and brother are resolved and she can face life with restored confidence and with her grief not gone but placed in context and understood.
Eliza Henry Jones has created interesting and multilayered characters and has captured the world of teenagers with an astute eye to their school and family life, often-fraught relationships and emotional insecurities. P is for Pearl is a sensitively written text that takes the reader inside the confusion and turmoil of a grieving teenager; it is a journey of self-discovery and uncovering the truth about people Gwen thought she knew. Excerpts from Gwen’s diary give insight into her fragile state yet, for all its angst, this is also a novel that abounds with life and energy and finishes with hope. It is recommended for readers in the upper secondary level.
Reviewed by John Nolan