Author: Amra Pajalic
Publisher: Text Publishing
Length: 224 pages
From Text Publishing: Fifteen-year-old Sabiha has a lot to deal with: her mother’s mental health issues, her interfering aunt, her mother’s new boyfriend, her live-in grandfather and his chess buddy, not to mention her arrogant cousin Adnan. They all want to marry her off, have her become a strict Muslim and speak Bosnian. And Sabiha’s friends are not always friendly. She gets bullied by girlfriends and is anxious about boyfriends, when she just wants to fit in. But two boys, Brian and Jesse, become the allies of this fierce and funny girl.
The Good Daughter is a coming-of-age novel written with sensitivity and humour. It confronts head-on the problems of cultural identity in the day-to-day lives of teenagers. Amra Pajalic has a wonderful ear for idiomatic dialogue and the dramatic moment.
I've been meaning to write this review for over a month now, after seeing Amra Pajalic speak at the Melbourne Writers' Festival (remember I wanted to read the book before going, but didn't get a copy in time?). Anyway, I'm glad I was able to purchase The Good Daughter afterwards as it's a really sharp and insightful read.
What interested me most about The Good Daughter was the way Amra Pajalic explores Sammie’s struggle between the traditional Bosnian-Muslim beliefs of her family whilst navigating adolescence in contemporary Australia. I really went into reading this knowing absolutely nothing about Bosnian/Bosnian-Australian culture and very little about the Muslim faith either, so it was a real eye-opener for me (coming from a Catholic and completely English-Australian background) and I was fascinated by the way Amra used history and culture throughout the story. Also, though I grew up/still live in the North-East suburbs (representing the Hursty line over here), I loved all the St Albans references (as I have very fond childhood memories of spending Christmas evenings/Boxing Day at my great-uncle and aunt's house) and I think Amra has done a great job at capturing Melbourne's western suburbs.
The other part of The Good Daughter which really spoke to me was Sammie’s relationship with her bi-polar mother. I haven’t come across a lot of young adult novels which have a teenager trying to deal with a parent’s mental illness (at least in my own reading experiences), so I found this quite a revealing read. Also, as Amra mentioned at MWF, her own mother suffers from bi-polar disorder, so she really brings a first-hand knowledge and honesty to Sammie’s experience, which I felt was clear throughout the novel. I also enjoyed the way Amra explored the concept of ‘the good daughter’ and this clash between home/public life (and how others perceive you) and changing cultural values.
Sammie herself is a fantastic protagonist – she’s gutsy, smart and full of determination. I love that she isn’t afraid to say what she thinks (even if it earns the disapproval of those around her) and isn’t a passive, meek girl who lets things pass by. Sammie has quite a distinctive voice, which stands strong throughout the novel and despite the culturally-centric themes of the story, Sammie is such an identifiable character and easily endears herself to the reader. I also really enjoyed reading about the friendship of Sammie, Brian and Jesse, especially the way their friendship largely stemmed from a love of books and reading. My only beef was that I really loved Jesse and wanted to know more about him sooner, though I understand why Amra teases us with small details and slowly allows us to find out more about him.
Amra’s writing isn’t ‘pretty’ – flowery, flourishy writing wouldn’t work for Sammie. It’s simple and honest and easy to really get involved in. Amra does a fantastic job at capturing realistic teen dialogue (something I always look for in YA) and she doesn’t shy away from being painfully honest and at times, quite confronting. My only other issue (if I had to name one) would be that everything in The Good Daughter builds up to pivotal events towards the end of the novel, and then it finished quite suddenly – I really loved these characters and could easily read another hundred or so pages. On the plus side, Amra is currently working on a sequel for The Good Daughter, so there’s surely more to come for Sammie, Jesse and the rest of these well-developed characters. Overall, The Good Daughter is an emotional, honest and quite funny coming of age story and I’m really looking forward to (hopefully) reading more from Amra Pajalic in the not-so-distant future.