27 September 2023

Between Us

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Clare Atkins, Black Inc., $19.99

Can 20km of barbed-wire fences and a political wilderness hinder the romance between two very different teenagers? A moving love story that tackles perceptive big issues with concern.

They make a connection in Darwin, though one of them lives in Wickham Point Detention Centre. Can separation occur due to cultural difference and the expectations of their parents?

Anahita is haunted by her life in Iran and is excited and nervous to finally start high school and see the world outside detention for a short time each day. She is passionate, curious and determined. She is also an asylum seeker who is only allowed out of detention to attend school. She can be a ‘regular Australian girl’ on weekdays, during school hours.

At school she meets Jono, who seems like a typical teenager with headphones permanently plugged into his ears, but there’s sadness about him too. As their relationship evolves, their perspectives on the world begin to shift and change.

Jono needs the distraction of an infatuation. In the past year, his mum has walked out, he’s been dumped and his sister has moved away. Lost and depressed, Jono feels as if he’s been left behind with his Vietnamese single father, Kenny, who is struggling to work out the rules in his new job as a guard at the detention centre.

Then there’s Jono’s aunt Minh, who came to Australia by boat in 1977.

The situation becomes even more complex as stress levels are high for the two teenagers and their families.

Atkins develops the characters with subtle shades of expressions. Each one of them is a component of the complex, multi-generational stories of immigration and belonging in Australia. This is a story about our inner lives, mind-set and interactions – and the circumstances we can control and the situations we can’t.

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