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BOOK REVIEW: P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

| 7 March 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: P is for Pearl by Eliza Henry Jones

HarperCollins Australia
February 2018
Paperback, $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Fiction / Mental Health


From the talented author of the celebrated novels In the Quiet and Ache comes a poignant and moving book that explores the stories we tell ourselves about our families, and what it means to belong. 

Seventeen-year-old Gwendolyn P. Pearson has become very good at not thinking about the awful things that have happened to her family. She has also become used to people talking about her dead mum. Or not talking about her and just looking at Gwen sympathetically. And it’s easy not to think about awful things when there are wild beaches to run along, best friends Loretta and Gordon to hang out with – and a stepbrother to take revenge on. 

But following a strange disturbance at the cafe where she works, Gwen is forced to confront what happened to her family all those years ago. And she slowly comes to realise that people aren’t as they first appear and that like her, everyone has a story to tell.


I used to ask Mum what she did for a job. And she would say I look after you and Jamie, silly.
And I would ask her what she did before us. And the story would always change. Sometimes she would say she was a clothes maker, a jeweller. She was a circus performer, a dancer, a horse trainer, a dog rescuer. She was a marine biologist, a fashion designer, a writer, an artist, a singer. And I had been dazzled. I had felt so sorry for Dad, who had only ever been an IT technician.

P is for Pearl is a story that has so very much packed into it, but at the same time not a whole lot at all. That might turn some readers off, the fact that there’s not a whole lot going on in terms of plot, but the reasons for this are clear; there is so much packed in emotionally, and the grief and other emotions resonate so strongly, that a big and flashy plot would just get in the way.

This is a story about small town gossip, the way things are so often blown out of proportion, and the kind of relationships and banter that develop when you’ve known this group of people your entire life. It’s about loss and the many forms it takes, from idolising the person who is no longer around, to feeling anger at them for being gone, while also feeling guilty for that anger because you’re not meant to be angry at the dead.

The way we try to hold onto those we’ve lost, but lose things about them without realising they’re slipping away.

Jamie was jealous – he wanted one, too. And I said I’d make him one next time we did clay in art. He was cross about it, but I can’t remember how Jamie was cross. Whether he stamped his foot or stuck out his lip or cried or yelled. I don’t remember what shape his crossness came in.

The way the people around you look at you after a loss.

People were doing the head-tilt thing. That thing people did without realising it when they felt sorry for you. Poor Gwen. The girl with the ghost family. Not even her dad was really hers, anymore. Even the new girl, Amber, was looking at me with her head tilted.

The mix of feelings when your broken family blends with another, and you feel adrift and out of place, and like that person who is no longer there is being replaced by different memories.

I loved how calm and measured and predictable Biddy was. People said things were predictable like it was a bad thing, but when you’d lived in chaos, predictability seemed almost magical. It was magical, knowing what someone was going to do before they’d done it. Sometimes, the wonder of it was enough to make my breath catch in my throat.
And on other days it drove me crazy.

I felt nauseous and rested my head on my knees, at the moment torn between hating myself and hating Biddy.
Bridget Banks. I’d been happy with my mum before that. Happy, because until then I’d never been close enough to another mother to realise what was lacking in my own. Biddy had changed that. She’d given me a tantalising glimpse of how other mothers behaved.

I woke up through the night, but Evie curled up in a ball next to me was comforting. A couple of times, half-asleep, I pretended she was Jamie. Jamie’s hot little feet pressed against my shins. Jamie’s biscuit breath in my face. And then I cried into my pillow, because there was no way I’d wish Evie away. Not really. Not even if it meant getting Jamie back. Or even Mum.

There’s also a dash of young love, and though it is awkward at times, and sometimes even a little cringey, doesn’t become sickly-sweet or monopolise the rest of the story.

Ben watched his sister run up the stairs towards the computer lab and then shook his head. ‘Sorry. I’m Ben.’
‘I’m . . .’ Who was I? I stared at his hand. The hand of the boy who thought the coast was beautiful. Something starting with G . . . I had completely lost my mind. I glanced helplessly at Loretta.
‘This is Gwen, I’m Loretta,’ Loretta said, elbowing me in the ribs.

That afternoon, I ran to Wade’s Point fast, imagining that I was being chased. Wade’s Point was right near Songbrooke, but I wasn’t really thinking about running into Ben. I’d only put lip balm on because of the cold.
Evie had stared at me on my way out. ‘Why’ve you got mascara on to go running?’
‘It keeps my eyes moist!’ I’d snapped, shutting the door and tearing off.

And the kind of friendships in which you’re an extension of one another’s families.

‘Biddy made dinner,’ I said, very solemnly.
‘Um. Okay.’ Aside from all the unfinished knitting projects in her room, Loretta was obsessed with growing things. I ran my fingers along a peace lily she had in a pot on her bedside table.
‘It was my mum’s recipe,’ I said, counting the potted herbs she had on her windowsill.
‘Oh.’ Loretta nodded.
‘One she actually cooked, you know? And I didn’t know what to do.’
‘So you ran here for apricot chicken.’
I lay back on her bed. ‘So I ran here for apricot chicken. Which smells really good, by the way.’

Oh, yeah, and plenty of talk about mermaids.

‘Anyway, about the surf. A few months ago I was out there, and something was out there with me.’
I felt a prickle down my spine. ‘Something like what?’
‘I dunno. Guys down at the surf shop reckon it was a shark or a dolphin, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t anything like that.’
‘What was it?’ I asked, thinking stupidly of my mermaid stories.
Tyrone looked away from me. ‘I don’t know.’
He started to walk away, then stopped. ‘It’s the weirdest thing,’ he said. ‘I swear, whatever it is that’s in the water, it turns up more when you’re on the beach, too.’

I miss her mermaid stories.’
Tyrone blinked. ‘Mermaid stories?’
‘She was obsessed with mermaids.’ I frowned. ‘I mean, sometimes she thought they were real, and that was a bit freaky. She thought there was a conspiracy about keeping them under wraps. But mostly she just loved them. I reckon I’ve seen The Little Mermaid a hundred thousand times.’

‘In the real version, every step she takes feels like she’s being cut with knives and in the end the prince chooses someone else and she dies.’
I had a beautifully illustrated picture book of this version. I wasn’t sure where it was. Mum had given it to me. He chose someone else and she died. My eyes suddenly prickled and I swallowed down my lemonade hard.




I honestly wasn’t sure this was going to be for me, as I can find contemporary stories somewhat hit or miss and the first chapter or two didn’t feel particularly engaging, but I pushed through and soon found myself passing the half-way mark and done within 2 days on which I also had long drives and work eating up chunks of my time.

At it’s heart this is a touching story full of friendship and love, as well as confusion, loss, and anger. Readers will likely pick up early on that some things were a bit off about Gwen’s mother, that she was battling some kind of illness and that their relationship was not entirely healthy. But you can’t realise the full scope of this, and the strength of Gwen’s on denial, unless you go on the journey with her. There is so much more to it than just a death, more than just an unhealthy relationship, and Eliza Henry Jones weaves in the essence of these situations so deftly that readers will find it hard not to relate to and fall for these characters.

There are some cringe-worthy moments in which Gwen and Sam (the love interest) are conveniently clumsily all over each other before either of them has the guts to make a move – like the time they are helping relocate someone and they fall and their lips touch – but overall they didn’t get in the way of the story too much, and the read as a whole is a quick, engaging read which will pull you in and leave you feeling satisfied at the conclusion.

I’ll definitely be looking into the author’s previous novels, In the Quiet and Ache, as well as any future releases, and am extremely glad to have read this, a book that pulled me in for the duration, in a month when I’ve had such a hard time connecting with and getting into so very many books.

Fans of books like Yellow by Megan Jacobson, and The Year of the Rat by Clare Furniss are bound to find a new story to steal their heart in P is for Pearl.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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