I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her. I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old. She will always have a nose piercing and a long curly knot of dark hair. She will always think The Cure is the greatest band of all time. She will always have a red band of sunburn on her lower back from our last beach holiday.
Every now and then you pick up a book and from the very first sentence you tingle. Claire Zorn’s new book “The Protected” did just that and more. Zorn reminded me what it was like to be an adolescent. Through her eyes I was taken back to my own first day of high school. I felt again the hopeful anticipation, the confusion and the pain of rejection. When we meet 15 year old Hannah she is living a nightmare in the aftermath of her sister Katie’s tragic death. Her parents, understandably are drowning in a sea of depression and despair and are consequently absent from her emotionally. Instead, she is passed from one psychologist to another in an effort to help her to come to terms with the unthinkable. However, Hannah’s problems run even deeper than first appears. Hannah, the victim of particularly insidious bullying, was broken long before this. Alienated at school and living in a mausoleum to her sister, a tiny glimmer of hope appears in the form of the new boy at school Josh, leaving Hannah to decide if she can trust him.
Beautifully crafted, Zorn’s prose shimmers as she takes her reader on a journey to a very dark place. This text is appropriate for shared study with students in year 9 or 10, although teachers need to proceed with caution as this novel will undoubtedly evoke a strong emotional response from many students. However, there is a richness of discussion to be had if you are brave enough to take it on. “The Protected” explores a range of themes including the death of a young person and the impact on families and communities, the complexity of sibling relationships, the volatility of friendships and the devastating and long lasting psychological impact of bullying.
As a secondary teacher for 15 years I have taught a lot of Hannahs. I have been the one there to pick up the pieces and try to fight the war in a battle always waged just outside my earshot and often outside my control. Unfortunately, I have also taught too many Katies; brilliant and vivacious souls that are taken from this earth too soon only to leave families and the broader community bewildered and asking why? Some books ache, and yet “The Protected” did more than ache, it ground my heart to dust. An outstanding work of fiction that deserves to be shared profusely and talked about.
Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden
**UQP provided me with a free review copy for this book. I have otherwise not been paid for any review or endorsement of this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased view.***