Review: The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

I read this book for the Read Harder 2019 Challenge.  I needed an #ownvoices book set in Oceania: the #ownvoices part means by an indigenous author, and Oceania is Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific islands.kwaymullina

The Things She’s Seen is by brother and sister Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia.  Beth Teller is a fifteen year old girl who’s been killed in a car accident. Beth is still able to communicate with her devastated father, a detective sent to a small Australian town to investigate a fire.  Beth decides that helping him solve a murder will take his mind off her death and help him to heal.

Beth’s mother was Aboriginal and her father is white. The book explores racism towards Aboriginal people and also incorporates some of the mythology of the Aboriginal people, like their relationships with animals, and the connections between future and past, life and death.

The story is told from two perspectives, Beth and a girl they meet, Isobel Catching, who may have witnessed the crime.  Much of Isobel’s story is told in a dream-like tone, where you can’t tell what’s real and what’s fantasy.  It’s up to Beth and her father to unravel the story.  But at the same time, Beth wonders why she’s there at all, and what’s going to happen to her now that she’s dead?

I listened to the audio version and loved the narrator, Miranda Tapsell.  It feels like a standard mystery novel at first, but as I got deeper into it I couldn’t tear myself away.  At times, parts of it felt really strange, but the authors do a good job of bringing the reader back to the main story.

By the end, it was an absolutely beautiful book.  I listened to the last part in the airport, where I just couldn’t keep it together (why am I always on a plane or in an airport when I really need to fall apart over a book?).

teller crow.jpgThis is a short read and at times feels more like poetry or mythology than a mystery novel.  It’s considered young adult and Beth’s voice is on the younger side, as she’s fifteen.  Still, it’s also a thoughtful book about death, grief, injustice, and Aboriginal history and culture.  There’s a lot to absorb, and I found I had to rewind quite a few times so I could understand what happened.  I particularly appreciated the authors’ note at the end so I could understand the cultural elements. I also loved the beautiful cover art, which I appreciated more after finishing the book.  (In Australia it’s title is Catching Teller Crow and this is the cover I found.)

I would never have picked up this book if not for the Read Harder challenge.  If you’re thinking about reading more books from indigenous authors, I highly recommend this one. This book also meets the Reading Women Challenge and the Reading All Around the World Challenge.


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