Dark Dreams. Australian Refugee Stories

Dark Dreams
Australian Refugee Stories
Edited by Sonja Dechian, Eva Sallis and Heather Millar
Non Fiction, Young Adult
224 Pages
Published September 2012
Thank you to Wakefield Press
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★★★★☆
Dark Dreams, Australian refugee stories is a unique anthology of essays, interviews, and stories written by children and young adults. The stories are the finest of hundreds collected through a nationwide schools competition in 2002. The essays and stories represent many different countries and themes. Some focus on survival, some on horrors, some on the experiences and alienation of a new world. This book will have a key role to play in schools across Australia.

Eva Sallis's first novel Hiam won The Australian Vogel and the Dobbie Literary Awards. She is cofounder of Australians Against Racism and is a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide.
Australia has a tumultuous history. In seventeen seventy eight, Australia was colonised by Great Britain, destined to establish the first European settlement in Australia. The Australian indigenous communities were decimated by violence, displacement and diseases introduced as a consequence of colonisation.

Australia is a multicultural landscape of migration. Since the White Australia Policy was abolished after the Second World War, over seven million migrants have immigrated to Australia, our population of twenty four million people comprising over six million immigrants, speaking over two hundred languages. A multicultural, multilingual country, forcibly removed from Indigenous communities, now imprisoning refugees escaping persecution.

Their journey to freedom is tumultuous, emphasised in the incredible Journey to Freedom written by Hai Van Nguyen, the winning entrant and one of over thirty narratives included in Dark Dreams. Fourteen years after arriving in Australia, the trauma of their journey remains.

We had lived to tell a story some never could. But the battle was not over, in fact, it was just beginning. We had fought with the elements and the authorities, but the real battle started the day we arrived in Australia. My parents have since learned that language barriers can be as insurmountable as giant waves, that exclusions leave a void far greater than the size of any ocean and that numbers last long after they have been removed. 
There’s nothing like having to cling to every bare breath, to see life reduced to a scarce trickle, to walk the tightrope separating life and death, at times not knowing one from the other. Very rarely do we get to see human nature stripped of all that it depends on to learn that human nature is itself enough.

Throughout each unfathomable circumstance, we are confronted by our own privilege and the mistreatment of migrants and asylum seekers. Dark Dreams is a collection literary memoirs from young, emerging authors chronicling the harrowing journey of immigrants and those escaping violent, ravaged communities from a multitude of destinations and circumstances. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Albania, Sudan and Germany. It is imperative for their stories to be recounted, to be heard. The human experience to be felt. Essential reading.

Amelia Westlake

Amelia Westlake
Written by Erin Gough
Contemporary, LGBT, Social Issues, Romance, #LoveOzYA
352 Pages
Published April 1st 2018
Thank you to Hardie Grant Egmont
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★★★★☆
Harriet Price has the perfect life, she’s a prefect at Rosemead Grammar, she lives in a mansion, and her gorgeous girlfriend is a future prime minister. So when she decides to risk it all by helping bad girl Will Everhart expose the school’s many ongoing issues, Harriet tells herself it’s because she too is seeking justice. And definitely not because she finds Will oddly fascinating. Will Everhart can’t stand posh people like Harriet, but even she has to admit Harriet's ideas are good and they’ll keep Will from being expelled.

That’s why she teams up with Harriet to create Amelia Westlake, a fake student who can take the credit for a series of provocative pranks at their school. But the further Will and Harriet’s hoax goes, the harder it is for the girls to remember they’re sworn enemies and to keep Amelia Westlake’s true identity hidden. As tensions burn throughout the school, how far will they go to keep Amelia Westlake and their feelings for each other a secret?
Rosemead Grammar is a prestigious girls college in the affluent lower north shore of Sydney, achieving academic excellence for young women of the wealthy and elite community. It is imperative of students to preserve the sanctity of the Academy and Harriet Price is the epitome of exemplary students. Harriet is an achiever, an enterprising young woman immersed within the community, a virtuous prefect representative of the academy. Wilhelmina Everhart is a social and political activist, challenging the archaic, nepotism of the administration of the Rosemead Grammar. Conspirators responsible for Amelia Westlake.

Amelia Westlake is a pseudonym, conceived to emphasise the predatory behaviour of a member of the teaching facility, a former Olympian and esteemed member of the community. The sexualised and indecent commentary of student bodies, innuendo and suggestive expression are disparaged, Rosemead Grammar absolved of their responsibility as the student concerns are disregarded.

The allegations of sexual intimidation and predatory behaviour are a significant component of the narration and encourages conversations surrounding boundaries, consent and abuse. The girls of Rosemead Grammar are conditioned to tolerate the behaviour, including Harriet Price. Harriet's awakening is admirable. Superficially, Harriet is a sheltered, wilfully ignorant young woman of wealth. Beneath the naive, effervescent facade is a compassionate, intelligent woman, exploited for her appetite for gratification. Their unequivocal attraction engenders an incident of unintentional unfaithfulness, each young woman is in a respective, female relationship, each concealing their alliance from partners.

Amelia Westlake is representative of young women who remain unheard, casualties of a patriarchal dominated society. A rudimentary and fundamental introduction to feminism, challenging socioeconism, elitism, chauvinism, institutional homophobia and ineptly, racism on several occasions towards a character of Asian appearance that was challenged belatedly within the narration.

Reiterating the importance of the overwhelming necessity to create inclusive, affirming environments, Amelia Westlake encourages dialogue and camaraderie, sharing ideologies and empowering young women.

Erin Gough, you are magnificent.

The Price Guide to the Occult

Contains sensitivities such as abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and self harm
The Price Guide to the Occult
Written by Leslye Walton
Magical Realism, Witches, Romance
288 Pages
Published April 1st 2018
Thank you to Walker Books Australia
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★★☆
From the author of The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender comes a haunting maelstrom of magic and murder in the lush, moody Pacific Northwest.

When Rona Blackburn landed on Anathema Island more than a century ago, her otherworldly skills might have benefited friendlier neighbours. Guilt and fear instead led the island’s original eight settlers to burn the witch out of her home. So Rona cursed them. Fast forward one hundred some years, all Nor Blackburn wants is to live an unremarkable teenage life. She has reason to hope. First, her supernatural powers, if they can be called that, are unexceptional. Second, her love life is nonexistent, which means she might escape the other perverse side effect of the matriarch’s backfiring curse too. But then a mysterious book comes out, promising to cast any spell for the right price.

Nor senses a storm coming and is pretty sure she’ll be smack in the eye of it. In her second novel, Leslye Walton spins a dark, mesmerizing tale of a girl stumbling along the path toward self acceptance and first love, even as the Price Guide’s malevolent author, Nor’s own mother, looms and threatens to strangle any hope for happiness.
Flames consumed Anathema Island as the Blackburn matriarch retaliated against the patriarchal society, men who colonised the small north western island. Accusations of witchcraft coincide with eight generations of Blackburn women, blighted abominations including the estranged Fern Blackburn.

Abandoned by her neglectful and abusive mother, Nor Blackburn is a wonderful young woman, friend and granddaughter, her grandmother and her partner creating a nurturing and environment. Although Nor is supported within a fostering environment, she continues to endure the torment and violence of her mother, comforted upon the harm she inflicts upon her body. Her anxiety is palpable and as the youngest Blackburn daughter, she was a causality of abuse and family violence.

The legacy of each Blackburn child is her ability, each generation fostering aptitudes from their matriarch. The village smouldered as the lineage is condemned to isolation, each Blackburn woman enchanting a lover for three days of passion to produce an heir. Fern Blackburn was consumed by her unwilling suitor, using incantations and her daughter as a blood sacrifice as entrapment. Fern has returned from isolation with The Price Guide to the Occult, monetising the Blackburn legacy, amassing a congregation of loyal disciples and darkness is descending upon Anathema Island. 

The mysticism is captivating, predestined to isolation through the legacy of their matriarch. The Blackburn name continues to be a formidable presence throughout the Pacific Northwest Islands. Unfortunately the narrative is incomplete. Characters are introduced without significance to the narration and despite the compelling compensation, the characterisation is rudimentary and the narration becomes monotonous. 

Although I enjoyed aspects of the narration, The Price Guide to the Occult is an exasperating novel. Unfortunately not for me.

The Astonishing Colour of After

The Astonishing Colour of After
Written by Emily X.R. Pan
Contemporary, Magical Realism, Own Voices
480 Pages
Published March 27th 2018
Thank you to Hachette Australia
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★★★★★
Leigh Chen Sanders is sixteen when her mother dies by suicide, leaving only a scribbled note, 'I want you to remember'. Leigh doesn't know what it means, but when a red bird appears with a message, she finds herself travelling to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time.

Leigh is far away from home and far away from Axel, her best friend, who she stupidly kissed on the night her mother died, leaving her with a swell of guilt that she wasn't home, and a heavy heart, thinking she may have destroyed the one good thing left in her life.

Overwhelmed by grief, Leigh retreats into her art and into her memories, where colours collide and the rules of reality are broken. The only thing Leigh is certain about is that she must find out the truth. She must remember.

With lyrical prose and magical elements, Emily X.R. Pan's stunning debut novel alternates between past and present, romance and despair, as one girl attempts to find herself through family history, art, friendship, and love.
Identifying her environment with colours, Leigh Chen Sanders reminisces the brightness of laughter, the gentle caressing of keys as the house is bathed in music, the hues of romance muted, the darkness slowly pulling her mother into depression.

Leigh is a biracial, a Taiwanese Irish American young woman, an artist of smudging and hues. Once a house awash with the melodious sound of her mother is now enveloped by despair, returning home to find her mother unresponsive, her life taken by clinical depression.

I try to think of a colour to match it, but all that comes to mind is the blackness of dried blood. I can only hope that in becoming a bird my mother has shed her suffering.

The nonlinear narrative accompanies Leigh in the moments after discovering her mother, despair reverberating throughout the family home. Dorothy Chen Sanders was diagnosed with depression, characterised compassionately and reiterating that mental illness is an incurable, continual and indiscriminate diagnosis.

Here is my mother, with wings instead of hands, and feathers instead of hair. Here is my mother, the reddest of brilliant reds, the colour of my love and my fear, all of my fiercest feelings trailing after her in the sky like the tail of a comet.

With a discarded note and a promise to remember, Leigh is doused in shades of sterile white, her colours now depleted. Leigh will journey to Taipei to uncover a life shrouded in whispers, perusing the elusive crimson feathers her mother has adorned after passing. The infusion of Taiwanese mythology is ethereal. As Leigh immerses herself in the Taiwanese landscape, she experiences moments of dissociation carried on the whispers of foreigner by curious bystanders, raised without the influence of her Taiwanese parentage.

The journey to Taipei is cathartic and although abandoned by her father on arrival, her grandparents Waipo and Waigong are welcoming and affectionate towards their granddaughter despite the language barrier. Her father is a contentious aspect of the narrative. A sinologist and scholar fluent in Mandarin, her father prioritised his career preferably to the deteriorating mental health of his wife. As her father increasingly travelled abroad, Leigh assumed the responsibility of primary caregiver and upon his return, he remained inaccessible and isolated. He continuously chastised Leigh for her creative medium, creating tension and frustration.

The racially and sexually diverse characters are wonderful. The narrative also pertains to the American Asian identity and the sense of acceptance towards biracial, multiracial and migrant communities.

My mother's hands have turned to wings. Her hair, to feathers. Her pale complexion now red as blood, red as wine, every shade of every red in the universe.

The Astonishing Colour of After is exquisite. The Mandarin Chinese dialect complements the affluent and atmospheric tapestry of Taipei and Taiwanese elegance. Debut author Emily X.R. Pan is extraordinary, a lyricist captivating readers. An impeccable read.

Contains sensitivities such as mental illness and suicide
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