The Last Dingo Summer (Matilda Saga #8) by Jackie French

Last Dingo SummerTitle: The Last Dingo Summer (Matilda Saga #8)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 16th November 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A body has been found in the burned-out wreckage of the church at Gibber’s Creek – with older skeletons lying beneath it.

The corpse is identified as that of Ignatius Mervyn, the man who attempted to kill Jed Kelly and her unborn child.

Newcomer Fish Johnstone is drawn into the murder investigation, convinced that the local police are on the wrong track with their enquiries. But as she digs beneath the warm and welcoming surface of the Gibber’s Creek community, more secrets emerge.

And Fish must also face her own mystery – the sudden appearance and then disappearance of her father, a Vietnamese refugee she never knew.

Set during the Indigenous rights and ‘boat people’ controversies of the late 1970s, this haunting story shows how love and kindness can create the courage to face the past.

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Picking up soon after the events of Facing the Flame, The Last Dingo Summeris the second last novel in the Matilda Saga. The final one – Clancy of the Overflow – will be out later this year. The novel starts with tragedy – Sam McAlpine, Jed’s husband and Mattie’s father – is injured in a farming accident. Soon after his accident, Fish arrives in Gibber’s Creek, and several skeletons, including the skeleton of Ignatius Mervyn, who, a year earlier, tried to kill Jed Kelly just before she gave birth to Mattie.

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Fish is drawn into the murder investigation – particularly the unidentified bodies lying below the church, but also wants to help prove who killed Merv while she stays with her grandmother and the Great aunts and uncles. As Fish digs below the surface, the secrets of Gibber’s Creek emerge, and Nancy starts to relive her years in an internment camp in Malaya during World War Two. Yet Fish has her own mystery – her missing father, someone she never knew.

At the same time, the residents of Gibber’s Creek are hearing about Indigenous rights, and the controversies of ‘boat people’ from Vietnam and Cambodia in the years after the wars in the Indochina region. Together, they will face the past and their differences, and come together to support each other when it seems like everything is going to fall apart.

I have been following the Matilda Saga for the past ten years, roughly since it first started, and have seen the characters move from the Sydney slums of 1894, to Federation, the suffragette movement, and into the First World War, the Depression, the Second World War and into the 1960s and 1970s – the years of hippies, another war, political change and the moon landing. Matilda, Flinty, Blue, Nancy, Jed and Fish and their families. It has been one of those series where each instalment builds on the previous ones, and highlights aspects of history once hidden, or not spoken about much in a fictional setting, and one where as I read, it simply swept me up in the story, taking me back to a well-known place, and familiar characters I always want to return to and know what they have been up to.

The stories told in the Matilda Saga are the ones that are usually hidden from history. The stories of women, of the poor, and the disenfranchised, as well as those whose race is used against them in laws and legislation. It is these untold stories and the way they form the backbone to Jackie French’s Matilda Saga that make the series and the ongoing story powerful. It is a series where readers get to experience a different voice to what is usually represented in history, and also, get to see themselves and possibly some of the struggles they have gone through in their lives reflected through Matilda, Scarlett, Nancy, and all the other fabulous characters, whether this be race, gender, class or disability, through characters like Flinty and Scarlett. Each of these intersections shows how women like those who populate the Matilda Saga have often had their voices erased or ignored. The Matilda Saga brings them to life, and brings to life the environment they live in, and makes the land as much a character as the human ones.

Across the series, we have lost beloved characters to war and other tragedy, and sometimes just to natural deaths. Here, the shadow of some of these deaths haunts the characters throughout, delving into a mystery reaching back into previous books and plotlines as the book has moved through almost a century of cultural, social and legal change in Australia, and how it affects the small community of Gibber’s Creek. Starting to come together to finalise the series, Jed is writing Matilda’s story, to show the world what Matilda managed in a time when women were not allowed to vote, when Indigenous people had no rights. She built a diverse community to help her biological and adopted family, and these novels have reflected this. In The Last Dingo Summer, Matilda’s presence is still felt by all those who loved her and lived with her. It is filled with intrigue and mystery, and the coming together of a community in times of drought, personal tragedy and a mystery that has left many people feeling unsettled in the face of the unknown.

This is a series I want to read again in its entirety once they are all out and follow the journey of all the characters closely as they evolve and develop across the end of the nineteenth century, and the first seven decades of the twentieth century, exploring Australian history across almost an entire century. It is a love story to a nation, and to people who need to have their stories told. It is a saga that gives a voice to the forgotten, and that is why I love it, because the stories are untold, unknown and that makes them extremely interesting, and I am eager for the conclusion coming out later this year.

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

after the lights go out.jpgTitle: After the Lights Go Out

Author: Lili Wilkinson

Genre: Young Adult,

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 25th July, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: What happens when the lights go off after what might truly be an end-of-the-world event? How do you stay alive? Who do you trust? How much do you have to sacrifice?

‘After the Lights Go Out is a terrifying yet hope-filled story of disaster, deceit, love, sacrifice and survival.’ – Fleur Ferris

Seventeen-year-old Pru Palmer lives with her twin sisters, Grace and Blythe, and their father, Rick, on the outskirts of an isolated mining community. The Palmers are doomsday preppers. They have a bunker filled with non-perishable food and a year’s worth of water.

One day while Rick is at the mine, the power goes out. At the Palmers’ house, and in the town. All communication is cut. No one knows why.

It doesn’t take long for everything to unravel. In town, supplies run out and people get desperate. The sisters decide to keep their bunker a secret. The world is different; the rules are different. Survival is everything, and family comes first.

‘A gripping portrait of catastrophe at the edge of the world, love in extremis, and the lengths that survival can drive us to.’ – Justine Larbalestie

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Prudence Palmer has lived in an isolated country town called Jubilee with her sisters – twins – Grace and Blythe, and their father Rick for three years. In these three years, they haven’t attended school, have barely interacted with friends, and have pretty much kept to themselves because their father is a prepper, who believes that the world will end, and they have a bunker filled with food and water for a year. They also have bags ready to go should they need to “bug out” as their father calls it. When the power goes out at the mine when Rick is there one day for a conference, and mass tragedy hits the town of Jubilee. In the small mining town of Jubilee, though, the tragedy unites the community, and the young boy whose mother has come to lead a conference, Mateo, who is quite fond of the word unacceptable throughout the book, befriends Prudence, and they form a bond that makes Prudence question what her father has drummed into her the past three years as he has cut them off from everything and everyone almost, pushing the idea that family should come first in a disaster, that worrying about the community is a waste of time and resources. With Rick missing for the majority of the novel and the several months it takes place over, Prudence and her sisters find themselves caught in a conundrum: do they keep their secret or share it with the town?

Eventually, and perhaps inevitably, things unravel, and the girls are drawn into the community after a few weeks alone, apart from going in to help each day, where they face more tragedy, and yet at the same time, Prudence finds that perhaps banding together and sharing resources is not such a bad thing – as each person has something different to offer – maybe they can find a way to get out of Jubilee and somewhere safer? As they go about their lives, the absence of Rick flutters away until the climax where Prudence is caught in a decision – loyalty to family or loyalty to the town?

The book is filled with diverse and amazing characters, from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, in a tiny town where yes, there are conflicts, but the quick realisation that working together will be the best thing – that community will help, and in the end, this rings true. They all band together for the memorial, for birth, for death and everything in between. Written with great care as well, the diverse cast is real, they’re family and they’re there for each other – including Mateo and his mother, Clarita, who are cut off from Mateo’s other mother in Melbourne – but who still soldier through to help Jubilee. Each character is integral to the plot and the way it unfolds and concludes, ensuring an ending that is uplifting and hopeful in the face of a tragedy that very nearly ended a town.

The premise of this #LoveOzYA novel is very different and unique, when put next to other ones, and that is what attracted me to it in the first place – the idea that the bonds of family, friendship and love of all kinds can be tested in a variety of ways, proving the strength of community in dire times – when everyone bands together to help each other, and does their best to set aside their differences. Whilst there is a touch of romance, it is not the be all and end all of the novel, and the way it was written, guts and all, flaws flailing about, and the general atmosphere of having such a relationship in the circumstances Prudence and Mateo found themselves in was refreshing – Lili doesn’t shy away from the realities of bodies or needing to wash, the lack of hygiene that the characters face for months on end – it is raw and real. This is what I enjoyed about it the most – they were free to be themselves, though they did have concerns about certain things, and they were free to make mistakes.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs were all characters. Nobody was perfect – not even Prudence’s dad planned for having three teenage daughters in his bunker, it would seem. So the girls have to use a bit ingenuity to come up with solutions to problems, that in turn they get to use to help the town. For much of the book, there is a hope that things will turn out, until the return of one resident sets in motion a series of quick events that force people to make last minute decisions, and that leads to a conclusion that in some ways, I had not expected, but that i had also hoped for – and leaving it open ended felt right, allowing the reader to imagine what happened next.

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