Sweet Adversity

by Sheryl Gwyther 

Reviewed by Zewlan Moor 

Sweet Adversity is a historical fiction novel for children aged 10+. It is refreshing to see a story set in Depression-era Australia that centres around a strong-willed protagonist reminiscent of Anne of Green GablesNot only does Adversity McAllister have the long red plaits, but she also shares a love of literature and play-acting. Her passion is performing Shakespeare down in the back paddock of the orphanage. This earns her the adoration of her fellow orphans and the reprobation of Matron Maddock. 

From the first chapter, we are thrown into the adventures of Addie at Emu Swamp Children’s home, as she gets into scrape after scrape while pursuing her theatrical passion. Addie’s adventures soon take her away from the home, to a children’s settlement and then to the big city in her search for the truth about her parents. She meets many colourful characters and stays true to her best friends, including her constant companion, Macbeth, the Shakespeare-quoting cockatiel. Complex characters and situations are introduced in interesting ways. Readers will be introduced to the deprivation of the Depression, and to the inequities of children having to eat scraps while the local doctor feasts. Adults are shown to be both trustworthy and sometimes corrupt. 

I loved the structural device of a Shakespearean quote at the start of each chapter. Similarly, I found the sections where Addie is transported to the world of the stage through her acting to be very strong. I would have loved to see more of this in the novel, but the plot is so action-packed there’s not much room for it. This focus on the external plot is, of course, perfectly pitched to the developmental stage of the middle grade target audience. Children will be pulled along by the suspenseful narrative and learn much of interest along the way.

There’s so much potential in the subject matter though. Perhaps one day Gwyther will write a sequel for older readers, a more internal story of an older Addie, exploring the magic of her thespian life. Now that would be a fitting curtain call!

Angus & Robertson 2018 323 pages $17.99 Age 10+ ISBN: 978-1-4607-5510-5

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