Book Review: Nona and Me

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Author: Clare Atkins
ISBN: 9781863956895
RRP: $19.99

Rosie and Nona grow up sisters, Yapas, and best friends in Yirrkala. It doesn’t matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal, Rosie’s family has been adopted and those family ties bind for life.


Growing up Rosie and Nona were inseparable but the day comes when Rose has to go to school in the town 20 minutes away while Nona goes to school in Yirrkala. They learn to work around that, until Nona moves away when they are nine.

The story picks up in 2007 with Rosie in Year 10, she has made friends in town and embraced town life as much as she can – as much as her mum will allow her. Sitting with her friends at lunch Rosie spots Nona across the schoolyard and a little later in the day she joins their class.

Rosie has managed to keep the two aspects of her life completely separate but now that Nona’s back that may prove a little more difficult and see Rosie doing some soul searching.

Nona & Me is a bittersweet look at Rosie’s adolescence trying to walk in both cultures. Rosie’s paternal grandparents were missionaries in Yirrkala in the 50s and it was they who were first adopted by the Aboriginal people. Both her parents are very involved with the local culture, her Dad teaches in another Aboriginal community and her mum works in the local art centre at Yirrkala. They embrace the local culture, as did Rosie for a long time.

nona and me

It is difficult enough being a 15yr old girl, regardless of where you are, when you then have to reconcile your first love with your community it can seem impossible.

Nona & Me takes Rosie on a journey of self-discovery  as she learns what’s important to her, and learns to stand up for what she believes in.

Rosie has become friends with Selena and her older brother Nick who have recently moved up from Sydney. Friendships fade into the background when she starts seeing Nick and it becomes a foursome of Rosie and Nick and Selena with her Year 12 boyfriend Benny; sometimes they spend time with other Year 12 boys. Rosie finds herself in very unfamiliar waters, waters that often become uncomfortable for her. Rosie has distanced herself from life in the community but the connection will always remain so she finds herself torn when her new friends don’t share her respect for the Indigenous culture and land.

In the first flush of young love Rosie tends to tune out the things she doesn’t want to hear or see, she refuses to get involved but she’s not yet strong enough to single herself out as different by speaking up. It’s hard enough to fit in because she doesn’t live in town.

We learn more about the depth of Rosie’s connection to Nona through flashbacks to their shared childhood and it is sad to think of the distance between them now, a divide they may never be able to bridge.

Nona & Me is a powerful read that addresses not only the difficulty Rosie had trying to balance her upbringing in an Aboriginal community with her desire to fit in with the kids in town but also the struggles faced by the Aboriginal people living remotely trying to stay immersed in their own culture. As so often is the case, it takes a tragedy close to home for Rosie to start identifying with her life in the community again.

Set in the lead up to Kevin Rudd’s Intervention and apology to Indigenous Australians we are given an inside look at some of the impact on the remote communities. Nona & Me highlights the cultural divide faced in remote communities, though Rosie and Nona shared a very similar childhood they have gone on to very different adolescences. Rosie is exploring first love at her own pace with Nick while Nona has married her promised and left school.

I really enjoyed Nona & Me, it was a powerful and interesting read that I think should be read by everyone. I look forward to seeing what Clare Atkins has for us next.

For more about Clare Atkins please head over to her website: clareatkins.com.au

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