P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones
PUBLISHED BY HARPER COLLINS
REVIEW BY ANITA LAURIDSEN
Eliza Henry Jones is a young Australian author perhaps best known for her 2015 and 2017 novels, In the Quiet and Ache respectively, both of which were well-received. P is for Pearl, a coming of age novel, published this year, is her debut foray into writing for a young adult audience.
Caught on the cusp of adulthood, Gwendolyn ‘Pearl’ Pearson not only has the usual teen problems to contend with, but must also learn to live with unsettling memories of her deceased mother and younger brother. This rather dark subject matter could go awry in the wrong hands, but Jones, rather than making light of the angst of ‘teenagerdom’, realistically explores both the complexities of loss and growing up with a troubled past.
As we become privy to seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn’s life – sometimes through excerpts from her diary – it becomes clear that she has more than a lion’s share of problems to deal with. Not only does she face the typical trials and tribulations of adolescence (read: boys, what she wants to do when she leaves school, a past that is the subject of constant rumour-mongering), but is also trying to navigate the sense of personal grief that has inexplicably resurfaced in her life. Preoccupied with memories of her dead mother and younger brother, Gwen struggles to cope with her sometimes overwhelming emotions. Her friends Loretta and Gordon bring her solace and a sense of stability, as does a newcomer to town, Ben, who becomes her love interest.
Set in a small and isolated coastal Tasmanian town, the beautifully evoked seascapes are a constant feature and work well to echo Gwen’s tumultuous emotions. Although Gwen’s father has moved on and made a new life for himself, Gwen feels very much adrift in this new family with step- and half-siblings and a stepmother she resents. As old wounds reopen for Gwen, the novel becomes much more than typical YA fare and deals with the complexities of grief in an often thought-provoking way.
Jones also quite successfully employs a number of fairy tale tropes to bring romance and otherworldliness to what would otherwise be an almost too grim and gritty story. Gwen, though spirited, is still a damsel in distress and Ben, with his kindness and compassion, is her noble knight in shining armour. Added to this mix there is a stepmother, a step-sibling, and a wild setting. There is even a recurring mermaid motif and Gwen’s fascination with these mythical creatures was a clever way to highlight her and her mother’s rebellious spirit and wild freedom.
YA fiction is not my ‘go to’ choice for reading material, but I really enjoyed the authenticity of Gwen’s voice and the wild landscape which is the novel’s backdrop.
Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.