16 Jun 2015

Consequential Classic: Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

I was recently informed that because I had never read Playing Beatie Bow - apparently unlike every other Australian child since 1980 - my life was lacking. When Penguin's Australian Children's Classics series was released, I bought a copy and can now say that I wish I had the chance to read it as a child, because it is most definitely a tale I would have loved dearly.

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Playing Beatie Bow tells the story of Abigail (formerly Lynette) Kirk. Like Erica Yurken, she's more of an anti-heroine, or unlikeable-yet-strangely-likeable heroine. She's stubborn, and like a lot of teenage girls, she can be selfish, or at the very least, only see how things affect her. She can be opinionated - even when she doesn't have anything to back up those opinions - and prickly. She's blunt and can be bratty (although not as bratty as Beatie!). Yet beneath it all is a good, kind heart - she wants to do the right thing - that is afraid of getting hurt. There's a bit of a romantic subplot, but it's part of Abigail's growing pains (and it wraps up rather weirdly at the end in a 'meet-cute' kind of fashion that made me roll my eyes).

What I liked about Playing Beatie Bow is that Park had really done her research on what life was like in a colony in the 1800s. It wasn't as if she was just making it up off the top of her head: she had researched life in NSW in the 1800s (particularly for the working class), and quite possibly also the Scottish community that emigrated to the area. Despite the time travel and characters being able to see into the future and tell fortunes, Playing Beatie Bow is a contemporary coming-of-age story. Admittedly, the plot is a little vague - why does Abigail need to help save the Gift? For what purpose? - but it's such a great little book that it didn't detract from my enjoyment factor. 

Side note: I am confused why a book that went into areas like prostitution in the 1800s had to substitute 'bloody' for 'blanky.' If a teenager can handle reading about sex work - forced sex work, at that - you would think they can handle a few mild swear words? This is a YA book that is quite clearly geared towards a younger audience (I'm sure the talk of prostitution would go straight over a ten or eleven year old's head), but I mean...

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