Clare Atkins Black Inc Books Published 24th September 2014 Thank you to Goodreads and Black Inc Books for providing this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way.
In this deeply moving novel about family, community and friendship in Arnhem Land, comes the story of Rosie and Nona. Sisters, or yapas, they grew up side by side, white Australian and Aboriginal, until Nona and her family move away from their community following the death of her father. Now Nona is back and Rosie, who has neglected the Aboriginal way of life since Nona has been gone, must now balance her love for country and family with her new life in town with her friends and new boyfriend. A political decision polarizes the wider community and the time comes when Rosie has to choose between her oldest friend and her first love, between the two worlds that she inhabits.
Nona And Me is a beautifully affecting story that will make you question what you think you know about Aboriginal communities and the way they exist beside white settlement. This novel was built on its characters, particularly Rosie and her parents but also Nick and the Aboriginal community where Rosie lives, Yirrkala. Nona exists mainly in flashbacks and in stunted encounters in the present, showing the strength of their bond and their friendship over time and how it’s changed. While I found it sad that Rosie and Nona couldn’t just pick up where they left off (and we have Rosie to blame for that), I also think its realistic behaviour of a girl struggling between cultures and where she belongs. I wish she had handled it better, but the growth and development of Rosie as a person over the course of the novel is heartwarming.
Something I found most interesting in this book is its exploration of what influences and contributes to the formation of our opinions and ideas. Rosie wouldn’t have had the same connection with the Aboriginal community if she hadn’t been raised in one, and perhaps she wouldn’t have lost that connection and struggled with her identity if Nona had not left – maybe she would have struggled more. Nick’s opinions are based off a bad experience from when he lived in Sydney and from the influences of his parents. What made me sad was how he seemed to have the potential and the opportunity to learn about and embrace the Aboriginal community – I would have liked to see Rosie stand up and show him their way of life and introduce him to the world she grew up in. Rosie’s parents were also interesting characters, very entrenched in the Aboriginal communities, surprisingly intolerant of the residents of the mining town where Rosie goes to school (again, the same opportunity for teaching to the Caucasian community wasn’t embraced), but I guess this is realistic. People all over the world are entrenched in their own places with their own opinions and sometimes the only thing they have in common is they all think they’re right. The world would be a whole lot better if everyone was a bit more open-minded, but I guess that’s wishful thinking.
Nona and Me is a heartfelt coming-of-age story where you’ll cry and cringe and rejoice along with Rosie as she navigates the unstable waters of friendship and family while trying to understand the political turbulence and how it affects the people she loves. It was wonderful and I highly recommend it, particularly to other Australians. I look forward to more from Clare Atkins.