Monday, 22 December 2014

Zenna Dare

Zenna Dare by Rosanne Hawke (Rhiza Press
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-925139-03-7
Reviewed by Peta Biggin

When Jenefer moves to the old family home in country Kapunda, she encounters a secret from the past.  What sort of life did Gweniver, her great-great-great-grandmother lead?  What connection did she have to the glamorous young singer Zenna Dare?  Jenefer’s curiosity develops into a passion and she is taken on a journey that spans five generations, from Cornwall to Australia.  Her pursuit of the mysterious Zenna Dare brings reconciliation in more ways than Jenefer could ever have imagined.

Zenna Dare is the latest book from Australian author Rosanne Hawke.  It is a lovely book that moves along with a good pace.  The simplicity of the premise is misleading – a teenage girl’s search into her family history; the story touches on such a broad range of topics, from the sense of dislocation at moving towns to Victorian social conventions; genealogy to racial prejudice and the treatment of Aboriginals.  Never, however, is the story bogged down with extraneous details.

 A typical teen, Jenefer sees life with a very limited perspective.  It is her search into the life of her great-great-great-grandmother, Gweniver, which opens her eyes to the wider world; and not only as a means of appreciating her own situation.  As Jenefer delves deeper into her family’s past, she also starts to gain an appreciation of her newfound friend Caleb’s family history.  As an Aboriginal, Caleb has very different family stories and secrets to tell.  It helps Jenefer become present to the treatment of the Aboriginals – both now and throughout Australian history.  Whilst the topic is not the central focus of the book, it provides an interesting counterpoint to Jenefer’s discovery of her past and a gentle reminder of the backdrop of European settlement.

Caleb also presents as the romantic interest in the story.  However, I particularly liked that it was a sub-plot that did not dominate.  Whilst it was clear that a budding relationship between the two was developing, the book did not digress into a teenage romance.

 I really enjoyed Zenna Dare; finding it both an easy and interesting read.  The amount of research that has gone into it is evident and the book goes a long way to reminding us of the amazing, interesting and heartbreaking stories that exist within our own families.

Rosanne Hawke is an Australian, award-winning author of over twenty books.  Her titles include: Shahana, Taj and the Great Camel Trek and The Messenger Bird.  Rosanne was an aid working in Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates for ten years and now teaches Creative Writing at Tabor Adelaide.  She lives in South Australia with her family.  She can be found online at:

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