Review of ‘The Protected’
Written by Claire Zorn
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
Age Range: Young Adult
Themes: grief; adolescence; sibling relationships; bullying; school; family; parents; depression; realistic fiction.
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I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old. She will always have a nose piercing and a long curly knot of dark hair. She will always think The Cure is the greatest band of all time. She will always have a red band of sunburn on her lower back from our last beach holiday.
BANG. Straight to my heart. From the first sentences of ‘The Protected’, Claire Zorn had me.
It is taken me some time to work up the courage to read ‘The Protected’, even though I knew it would be superb, given the beauty of ‘The Sky So Heavy’. I lost one of my brothers not so long ago and I knew from the blurb that this book was going to be a hard one for me to read, given the sibling death and the exploration of grief within the family unit. I was concerned that the Zorn’s depiction of grief would not ring true….because how can one depict the searing pain of grief and the devastation it wreaks on a family, when one has not experienced it?
Either Zorn has experienced deep grief, or she has sat very quietly on the sidelines, skilfully and sensitively observing the grief of those around her, as ‘The Protected’ depicted the crashing, conflicting thoughts and tidal wave like emotions of my own grief, and the grief of my family.
‘The Protected’ is set in the Blue Mountains and I wrote this review sitting in Katoomba, at the holiday house of Eden Riley, who also knows grief. Both the location and the company is fitting, as I reflect back on this story and the main character of the novel. Fifteen year old Hannah McCann, lost her sister Katie almost a year ago in tragic circumstances. Since then the relentless bullying she had experienced at school has eased – because even the worst school bullies know that once you have lost a sibling you are untouchable…you are protected by your loss. Lonely and full of guilt, Hannah is made to see the school counsellor, Anne, after a series of psychologists have failed her. Anne is a fabulously quirky character and frankly, I wish she were a real person and could be cloned and placed in every high school in order to help adolescents navigate their way through the emotional hell that is experienced by many of our young people.
Zorn pulls no punches in describing Hannah’s relationship with her now dead sister. It is tempting to idolise deceased family members; to see their life through rose coloured glasses. The saying ‘don’t speak ill of the dead’, comes to mind. However in real life, family relationships are complex and fraught with issues, and Katie and Hannah were so very different. Hannah loved her sister, but she didn’t always like her. Oh how I get that. Similarly, the relationship between Hannah and her grieving parents is not perfect – in fact her mother is incredibly emotionally detached from her (unsurprisingly), and her father is dealing with pain both physical and mental.
Young adult novelists often remove parents from their writing to allow the adolescents to shine and take centre stage. I understand this plot technique, but it was beautiful to have a novel where the parents were so very real and so very, very vulnerable.
Deeply moving, utterly authentic and at all times hopeful, I predict ‘The Protected’ will be popping up on shortlists all over the country in the next year. Take a deep breath and enter the world of Hannah and her family.
EDIT: I love it when I am correct…just look at the awards it has won!
Winner, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2015 – Young Adult Fiction
Winner of the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult
Winner, 2015 CBCA Book of the Year for Older Readers
Shortlisted, 2015 Inky Gold Award
Selected in New Zealand Listener’s Top 50 Children’s Books for 2014
The book trailer is below.
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