Alice Pung is well known for books about her family’s experiences as migrants and for her collection of essays from other people who were refugees and migrants to Australia. Laurinda is her first novel, and it is aimed at teenagers.
Lucy is a bright girl who becomes the inaugural recipient of the Laurinda Equal Access scholarship. Laurinda is a prestigious girls’ college, and it means leaving Christ Our Saviour where Lucy has been cruising along easily, to join year 10 in a new school. Laurinda is another world, and Lucy is the outsider who is sometimes taken on by the different cliques, even the ‘Cabinet’, a very select group of girls who the others look up to. Lucy is alternatively intrigued, repelled and overwhelmed by all the conflicts and nasty tactics of many of the girls and finds it hard to work out her place.
Her background of hard working parents, with a mother who sews frenetically in the family garage, and a cleaner father who don’t have a clue how such a school works, make it difficult. For example, her mother can’t understand why a home made uniform just won’t cut it. She is unable to help Lucy in any way to make the adjustment.
The book doesn’t say much that is good about an exclusive college education, particularly socially. Despite this, Lucy does figure out how to get the most our of it, but it does come at some cost.
I was impressed by Pung’s writing, but fairly depressed by the school environment, and how many of the staff were complicit in the unpleasant behaviour of many of the student’s. Schools talk about resilience a lot, and the girls in this school needs bucket loads of it. But Lucy comes out of it well, and luckily, she isn’t alone in surviving the experience! Paperback $20