Wednesday 15 October 2014

The Protected

The Protected by Claire Zorn (University of Queensland Press)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 978 0 7022 5019 4
Reviewed by Jo Antareau

Not since “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Attwood have I read a novel that so compellingly and convincingly captures the blood sport that is teenage-girl bullying.
Hannah McCann is out of step with her peers and desperately wants to fit in and not rock the boat, thereby inviting the vultures to swoop and tear her to shreds. The bullying is carried out in an atmosphere of sweetness and innocence. It’s the little things -- the put downs, the sneers at her lack of cool, the accidentally-on-purpose exclusions that effectively undermine the little confidence Hannah has left, and builds up to a humiliating show-down. Hannah is left accused and sentenced by the school ground judge, jury and executioners. And in the current age of twitter and facebook, she has no respite and no protection from the unrelenting pointing fingers.
Although Hannah does not lack guts, a series of tragic events leaves her a quivering shadow of her former self. The story follows her as she rebuilds her life and makes tentative steps towards self acceptance, eventually regaining her dignity and taking ownership of her mistakes. It is only then that she can interact with others as an equal.

This story affected me at a visceral level while I was reading it and I had to put it aside a few times, as the unfolding story of Hannah’s train wreck life was so unrelentingly powerful.  Full marks to Zorn for a well crafted novel that also tackles the impact of grief upon a family.

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