Lucy Lam is on the verge of drowning in the oestrogen filled waters of Laurinda school but manages to prevent an emotional shipwreck by regaining her sense of self just as the life-boats are being lowered. Much like the Vietnamese boat people she is descended from she demonstrates a resilience and desire to survive seemingly at odds with the privileged academic island she has been washed onto.
Australia provides the salvation for her destitute parents but in the urban wasteland of Stanley they live cheek by jowl with dysfunctional families who emanate an air of hopelessness that would leave even Jeremy Kyle screaming enough. Yet for Lucy and her family this isn’t depressing reality tv, but an opportunity for redemption through hard work and a drive to succeed; qualities which are anathema to the indigenous population’s resigned acceptance of the inevitable physical and aspirational limits of their existence.
Alice Pung pulls no punches in telling a story of dogged survival in a pubescent jungle where friendships are multi-layered and often coated in betrayal. Lucy’s character is revealed in the letters she writes to her best friend Linh in which she unburdens her feelings of guilt as the temptations of an easy, immoral life impinge on the day to day reality of a more mundane home life
Lucy is something of a social and educational experiment but it is her ability to retain her identity when threatened by the compliments and deceit of superficial friendships that ultimately defines her. This is a story told from an outsiders perspective by a narrator who displays the strength of her individuality without ever losing the pride in where she came from.