When I unwrapped this book, it really did not seem the sort of book I would enjoy, but as Harper Collins had been kind enough to send it, I resolved to read it and give it a fair review. And I’m not disappointed that I persevered.
The cover shows two attractive girls heading down a desert road in a sports car, Thelma/Louise style. At no stage of the book does that happen. One of the girls is unattractive and they head off in an old ute with an old dog.
The first section is very slow moving as the childhood of the characters is established. Elsie has wealthy and influential, but unloving parents who are on the land; Tara lives with her mother and mother’s boyfriend in a situation of emotional and sexual abuse at the abattoirs; the twins, Zac and Amos, live at the local roadhouse near the sewage plant with eccentric but loving parents. There are lots of poo jokes throughout the book. While, justifiably, I feel, Tara’s parents have no redeeming features, Elsie’s parents don’t either and I felt they were too unkind and unloving. The twins’ parents were, on the other hand, extreme in their understanding. While it is important to establish character and setting in a novel and its themes, to me this took rather too long and was repetitive. School was a miserable place for the four and again, I found it unlikely there was not one kind teacher or one positive experience.
I had trouble with the setting of the town, Culvert. Certainly class divides exist in country towns but not to the extent it’s portrayed here. Culvert was big enough to have its own council but was near another big centre. I just couldn’t picture what sort of town Culvert really was and I write from the experience of having lived for two years in Broken Hill and twelve in the western Riverina in a town of 3,000, the centre of a shire of 6,000. I learned to have great respect for the people there as they survived through the good and bad seasons and government policies. I have no illusions as to how tough life can be out there, and no illusions as to what a very positive experience it can be to live in a country town.
And there is a serious message to the book, advocating regenerative agricultural practices and humane treatment of animals, and of alternatives to our current fuel sources. This is written about with great knowledge, compassion and persuasion. I’m not sure it’s what its readers are expecting.
For the book is mainly a story of growing up, of love found and lost and found, of dealing with the hand you’re given whether it’s an accident, betrayal, abuse, celebrity. The book is very positive in its message that you don’t have to be a victim and that you are responsible for the change you want in your life. It acknowledges the help and kindness of others in achieving this. We leave the four young people triumphant; particularly Tara, a strong character.
Much of the story takes place when Elsie is a celebrity country and western singer. This is totally an area I know nothing about but found it convincing and certainly very important to the plot. In this section the author writes of drug addiction and the price of frame.
This is a romantic story set in an Australian rural area with a serious message about agricultural practices, so if that’s the sort of book you like then I would recommend ‘Cleanskin Cowgirls’.
Did you grow up in a small rural town? Does a story like this appeal to you? Let us know in the comments