I have long been a fan of Rosanne Hawke’s gentle approach to story telling. Her latest release The Truth About Peacock Blue, does not disappoint. In fact, in this novel we see Hawke at her very best, leading readers into vividly drawn worlds in which her characters, despite being small of voice, manage to speak loudly and poignantly to her audience.
The Truth About Peacock Blue tells the story of Aster, a fourteen year old Christian girl who lives with her parents in a small village in Pakistan. Following the death of her brother, her parents decide to invest in her education only surviving child, Aster. The decision to educate a girl is an unusual one for families from rural areas in Pakistan, but is one which is is tentatively embraced by Aster, who had anticipated an early arranged marriage. As the “hope” for her family, and a girl of a minority faith, Aster must navigate her way through a minefield of challenges wrought by the largely Muslim context of her school and country. She prevails with dogged determination, until the worst happens. She is accused of blasphemy.
From the very first page this is a story which quietly aches. Aster may live a deceptively simple existence as a girl in a small village in Pakistan, yet her life is far from simple. Politically and socially, Pakistan is revealed as a beautiful, yet complex nation where life for women and those of religious minorities is rarely trouble free. Even before the issue of blasphemy appears ,this is a tale of great loss. The story begins with the loss of her brother and rape of a close friend and continues to unfold with additional stories that readers will find most harrowing. While the issues explored in this narrative are sensitive and deeply complex, Hawke succeeds in crafting a story with straight forward language that will be highly accessible to her YA audience.
I anticipate that teachers will readily find use for this novel across a range of curriculum areas with students from year 9 upwards. In the English classroom it would be suitable as a shared class text where a close analysis of the themes and broader context of the story could be fleshed out even further within the HaSS curriculum. The story would pair well, holding its own, along the likes of Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird. The Asian context and perspectives presented in the story fulfil current ACARA requirements at grade 9. Furthermore, in schools where Religious Studies is taught, the story could be a powerful segue way to a discussion on the topics of religious diversity, tolerance, and the various issues emerging within contemporary societies both at home and abroad.
The Truth About Peacock Blue, is a timely novel highlighting with immense sensitivity the reality of the turbulent times we now live in. Rosanne Hawke engages with these issues honestly, in a manner that will incite open discussion, whilst communicating a hope-filled message that uplifts and will frequently inspires positive engagement in today’s youth.
Tanya Grech Welden