Books & Literature

Book Review: Beyond Alice, by Tanya Heaslip

AUTOBIOGRAPHY: From the happiness and freedom of her bush childhood, Tanya Heaslip is sent to a boarding school sixteen hundred kilometres away. As these years pass surrounded by the friends she makes, Tanya’s memoir is a humorous and inspiring story of strength, resilience and the realities of Australian outback life.

A captivating true story of navigating life at a boarding school in the 1970s which takes you from the glorious highs to the heartbreaking lows.
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Tanya Heaslip has written three books in the past three years. In From Alice to Prague she wrote about her life in the Czech Republic as a young woman looking for adventure. Her next book, An Alice Girl, was about her early life as a young girl on her family property in Central Australia. Both were captivating and full of heart. 

Heaslip has continued to tell her story in this new offering about her life at a boarding school in Adelaide. Tanya left the love and security of her home on the property of Bond Springs to attend what was then Methodist Ladies College and later became Annesley College. 

Beyond Alice is the autobiography of a 12-year-old girl who has been thrown into a new world with bullies, cruel boarding mistresses, and unfair rules which didn’t make sense. She is always cold (due to no heating) hungry (little satisfying food available) and scared. She is now living in a world totally foreign from the one she has been used to. No open skies as far as the eye can see, no freedom to roam, no family support, and cruelty beyond belief from the mistresses who were there to make sure the girls always behaved like “ladies”. 

Thankfully, for both Heaslip and the reader, there are moments of happiness at the yearly sports day, preparing for the school socials, her love of music, when she is able to go home to her family in the holidays, and memories of her time before high school which she shares with her friends. The teachers are also caring and provide what support they can. There are also the inevitable boy crushes and that feeling of first love. These happy times give the reader some relief from the overwhelming sadness and bullying Heaslip is experiencing. 

If you grew up in Adelaide, you will recognise the landmarks and other places the girls visited when they had moments of freedom from the oppression of school life. Places like West Beach, the city, and a favourite dress shop of the time, Fata Morgana.

Heaslip is a great story teller and writes from the heart. Her writing is uncomplicated and easy to read. Her descriptive passages of life at both school and home on the land are always delightful and give the reader a wonderful sense of her life.

The photographs in the book take the reader back to a simpler time, complete with the fashion of the day.

For those readers who have experienced bullying, this book may bring up painful memories. It is more sombre than Heaslip’s first two books and doesn’t have the joy, love and security the reader feels when reading both An Alice Girl and Alice to Prague.

Rightfully, life at boarding schools has improved markedly since the 1970s and they are now more a “home away from home”. Cruel punishments are a thing of the past. But there is no doubt at all that lifetime friendships are formed in times of hardship and Heaslip has thankfully been able to call on these girls to help write the stories from their youth.

Beyond Alice is the story of times past and she has been able to rise above the hardships and forge a life for herself beyond school. Alice to Prague tells of this future and her next book will continue the story into university life. 

The autobiography deals with loneliness, being away from loved ones, friendships, bullying, resilience grit, and determination to succeed. Many who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s will relate to these themes.

Heaslip is a great storyteller, and in Beyond Alice, the reader is certainly taken on a journey that is sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, but always interesting. 

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: May 2021
RRP: $32.99

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