Book Review: ‘A Place Near Eden’ by Nell Pierce

Wow. Wow. Wow. Nell Pierce coming through with the award winning literary fiction. Nell is the prestigious winner of the 2022 Australian/ Vogel’s Literary Award. Okay cool Mel, but what does this actually mean? My fellow reading friends, it means that Nell had worked dang hard on her book like all authors, was selected out of a HUGE bunch of unpublished manuscripts, fit the bill of being under the age of 35 AND has now had this manuscript published, promoted and sold with Allen & Unwin. So let me tell you, this book is a no brainer for you to pick up in 2022.

A Place Near Eden follows three main characters; Tilly (Matilda); Sem; and Celeste. Their intricate, manipulative and submissive relationships with one another creates the whirlwind of events and downward spirals in this novel. The overall theme that has really kept me thinking and pondering long after I finished, is manipulation. A Place Near Eden shows the different types of manipulation a person can face in real life. This novel shows strong instances of verbal manipulation, tv and film consumption that had been manipulated to make you believe a persons’ innocence, and manipulation through the streams of social media. There has been a tragic ‘accident’ near Eden and we begin to slowing unfold who was involved by back tracking Tilly’s story, but is Tilly’s story real and honest? Or has it been created through the manipulation and impression of those around her, who are aiming to save themselves by throwing Tilly in the firing line.

At the beginning it is brought to the reader’s attention that teenage Tilly is facing a change in home environment. Her new foster brother Sem, has moved in and her parents are at odds over Sem’s behaviour and his influence on her. Tilly idolises Sem and begins to develop romantic feelings towards him. Now bring Celeste into the mix – she is Sem’s ‘girlfriend’ and next door neighbour. Celeste is older than Tilly and has a teenage strength about her. She wears her midriff tops without the worry of wandering eyes, lies and boasts about going all the way with Sem. Celeste creates arguments with her Mum and Sem for no good reason other then wanting to have a fight, she talks Tilly into drinking a lot, she criticises and makes fun of Tilly for getting a job and then goes and gets one herself, she also convinces Tilly to not keep any other friends. Celeste is clever, manipulative and calculating. She can also strongly influence and convince Tilly’s change in mindset, mood and memory.

For me, quite early in, Tilly reads as an unreliable narrator and this kept me flipping the pages. Tilly talks in the past of her coming and going relationships with Sem and Celeste, moving out with Celeste, drinking a lot, counselling sessions arranged by her Dad to draw out information on Sem, her unusual relationship with her near absent mother, and the place of spiritual awakening that Sem and her mother would visit way out bush. Tilly is talking to someone in the present, someone who will be learning about Tilly, Sem and Celeste’s story through a documentary. This documentary has been created, aired and viewed to expose the possible scenarios leading up to the accident near Eden and who is responsible. Due to Tilly being an unreliable narrator, for a long time she is convincing you, as the reader, that she is responsible. She is telling you she has destroyed someone’s life and should be punished – yet as Celeste and Tilly’s relationship begins to unravel, we can’t be so sure as to who’s the guilty one.

This novel is challenging for me to write about without giving too much away. I really enjoyed the not knowingness of jumping in with just the blurb for reference. I want you to experience that unknown feeling too! Therefore, I will finish this review with one of my favourite lines in the book. This stood out to me the moment I read it, as I felt it can sum up Celeste’s mind games, Tilly’s influenced inability to make choices and Sem’s unreliable nature. It can also sum up young adulthood, pivots in life paths and personal growth;

“Don’t look at me like I’m crazy,” Sem said. “It’s okay if you don’t see things the way I do. It’s just important to me that I make my own choices, that’s all.”

One big cheer and shout out to Allen & Unwin, as well as Nell Pierce for generously sending me this (now well read, tagged and already passed around) copy of ‘A Place Near Eden’. I am so SO very grateful for the experience 💖

💫 Mini Series Review 💫

Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

The first volume of Heartstopper grabs you with two gentle hands and gives you a warm hug! Charlie is a quiet and introverted, openly gay teenager at an all boys high school. He knows who he is and his friends and family are true and supportive. He sees the best in people and trusts them to be as kind as himself, however his current ‘boyfriend’ Ben, is not that. Ben chooses to sneak around with Charlie and manipulate Charlie into not speaking openly about their relationship. This is because Ben isn’t ready to explore his sexuality openly. Charlie is struggling with the back and forward of Ben’s feelings and desires – when he meets Nick Nelson.

Nick is the high school rugby lad who is loved by everyone and is 100% straight … until he gets to know Charlie. The strong feelings of friendship grow into more than ‘just best friend’ level, and seemingly overtake Nick’s thoughts. Nick has never questioned his sexuality before, therefore this first book really has a focus on Nick exploring what romantically liking Charlie could be like in his world.

Volume 1 is introductory to Nick and Charlie, their friend groups, their schooling environments and the blooming first love. 💫 Butterfly feelings 💫 Exploration of self 💫 First kiss moment

Volume 2 explores the newness of Nick and Charlies feelings and relationship. 💫 Joining new friendship groups 💫 Bullying 💫 More butterfly feelings 💫 Cute cinema scene 💫 “Boyfriends” 💫 Coming out

Volume 3 looks at Nick and Charlie opening their relationship into the school environment and on their school excursion to Paris. 💫 Nick telling his extended family about Charlie 💫 Mental health and anorexia 💫 Second base romance 💫 More, more butterfly feelings 💫 Coming out to school friends 💫 Nick can speak fluent French?! (I’m excited to see this on the Netflix series) 💫 Tao and Elle accept their feelings for one another

Volume 4 gets deep people! So trigger warning for the content surrounding self-harm, mental health and anorexia. I really think Alice has brought light to these subjects to show the boys maturing and how their emotional intelligence grows as they move into a different stage of their life. Honestly, I didn’t see the series moving this way so I’m interested to see where she takes it in Volume 5. 💫 “I love you” 💫 Mental health unit admission 💫 Nick’s challenging relationship with his older brother comes to breaking point 💫 PDA at school 💫 More, More & more butterfly feelings 💫 Nick and Charlie’s first party attending as a couple 💫 Awkward family dinner 💫 A New Year’s kiss

Have you read the graphic novels of Heartstopper yet? Or tried the Netflix series? Let’s chat in the comments 💬