Friday 31 May 2024

What they told me: A life divided

What they told me: A life divided by Hayley Lawrence (Scholastic Australia) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN: 9781761291708

Reviewed by Kellie Nissen

What does it take to be the luckiest family?

Fifteen-year-old Elliot knows the Gillespies are the luckiest. They live in a beautiful part of Australia, surrounded by friends and joy and love. It’s the perfect life – but perfect doesn’t last forever and, piece by piece, Elliot’s perfect life starts to disintegrate.

First, her best friend, Drake, suggests that he might want to move away to study.

Then, Elliot’s parents drop the bombshell no child ever wants to hear: they still love each other but can’t live together anymore. They can’t be a family.

Almost overnight, Elliot starts to wonder if her whole life has been constructed around one big lie.

In What they told me, author Hayley Lawrence captures Elliot’s internal turmoil in detail, drawing the reader right in to Elliot’s pain and confusion. Alternating skilfully between backstory and real-time events, Lawrence builds on the main characters – Elliot, Drake and Elliot’s father Dan – and their relationships and reliance on each other.

Lawrence has crafted the ultimate coming-of-age story, and we cannot help but be drawn into Elliot’s world as she grapples with change and manages her growing feelings for Drake, all while needing to grow up very fast and support both her younger brother, Lachy, and her father.

While Elliot’s strong sense of connection to her family history and the Gillespie land may be something not all readers can resonate with, they will be able to see a little of themselves in Elliot, or in Drake.

There is much to love about the way Hayley Lawrence has told this story, from Elliot’s raw honesty and passion for family to the tiny, funny and poignant moments that we all have but often take for granted. My favourite – and my biggest takeaway – is Drake’s wisdom when he advises Elliot to focus on the things she gets to keep … a subtle but meaningful lesson for all of us.

What they told me is an important read in the mid-grade genre for readers aged 10–14, but I also feel it is a story that parents need to read for the interiority of the teenage mind.

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