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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Just Finished Reading...Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

A couple of years ago, this author’s first novel, The Flywheel, was shortlisted for the CBCA Award.  It was a sweet and funny novel about a lesbian girl trying to keep her father’s restaurant running while he was overseas, while falling in love with a flamenco dancer performing across the road every night. Here’s my review of it. 

This one is also funny, in a more over-the-top style, but with a coming-of-age theme and a romance between two girls at a posh private school. The two girls are very different - Harriet, a teacher’s pet student and sports star who has, however, been hiding something unpleasant that happened to her, and Will, gifted artist and the daughter of a divorced couple, now living with her mother in one of Sydney’s less wealthy suburbs, whose mother is still somehow managing to pay her fees. She is passionate about social justice and angry about the way the school is being run. There is a teacher who gives higher marks to her pets, a school hall with excellent facilities that isn’t being used, a fundraising for a second pool - and a teacher who is getting away with sexual harassment. 

The two heroines meet in detention at the start of the novel - Will’s detention, not Harriet’s - and, from hating each other, get together to create a fictional student called Amelia Westlake, first to get some satirical cartoons published in the school newspapers and then to carry out a number of witty pranks to get some justice within the school. 

This does eventually lead to an “I am Spartacus” scene in a Year 12 assembly! 

I know there are reviews out there which consider the characters of the obnoxious staff members hard to swallow, but I didn’t find them so; even working at a disadvantaged school rather than a wealthy privileged one, I met Principals and upper level staff every bit as awful as the ones in this book, though I have to admit I never met one who gave better marks to favoured students. What would happen at report time, when you have to tick off what each student has achieved? And I can tell you that teachers soon know their students’ styles - and when they are plagiarising. 

Which is why I found the “blind” reading hard to swallow; it might happen at the end of year exams but doing it during the year assumes that teachers can’t pick out their students’ styles, and that the kids aren’t cheating. How can you help individual students to improve if you’re supposedly marking them blind? However, without it, there would have been one less prank for “Amelia Westlake” to pull! 

The ending was fairly predictable, but it didn’t seem to matter. 

Readable stuff for older girls. It’s available online and from your good local book stores. I bought mine from Apple Books. 


Brian Joseph said...

This sounds like it is worth the read. Romances with contrasting people, as well as stories of oppressive schools have been with us for a long time. But in the right hands they can still be very entertaining.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Indeed, Brian! And this was very entertaining.