Books & Literature

Book Review: Where We Begin, by Christie Nieman

YA MYSTERY: 17yo Anna is running into the night, fleeing her boyfriend, mother and everything to the land and the grandparents she has never met.

A coming of age mystery that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Christie Nieman is an Australian author and librarian. Her first novel, As Stars Fall, was honoured as a Notable Book with the Children’s Book Council of Australia. Where We Begin is her second novel.

This is a story of secrets and Nieman skilfully peels back the layers of each character throughout the book. We first meet Anna Krause, a seventeen-year-old girl from Sydney, who is focussed on one thing only: becoming a doctor. Every waking hour is spent studying, trying to achieve that lofty goal of attaining a perfect HSC score of 99.95 so she can get accepted into medicine at the University of New South Wales.

Anna has run away from home and is heading to country Victoria to live with grandparents she has never met and has been told nothing about. She is angry with her mother who has not done a particularly good job of being a mother. She is leaving behind a boy, Nassim, who has been a beacon in her otherwise focussed life. She finds herself in a dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere with no phone reception and lots of questions. It is on land that has been in her family for generations. But who does it really belong to? And at what cost was the land first settled?

This story moves back and forth in time as the reader is apprised of what has happened to bring us to the present. It is a story of generations. It moves from the present, back a few days to Anna’s reasons for leaving home and also back to the time of her mother at the same age in 1996. We discover that there are long held secrets which nobody has ever spoken about, and new secrets, tightly held but needing to be dealt with.

Where We Begin is a story of family: those we have met and those we are yet to meet. And is family just those to whom we are related? It is also a story about place and the importance of belonging. It is story of First Nation people and their sense of loss as white settlers took over their land. It is a story of racism. It is a cautionary tale about teenage pitfalls and consequences for actions. And it is a story of old age and loneliness. It is a mystery which continues to unfold right to the very end.

Where We Begin is a wonderful coming of age mystery. It is well written, with believable characters who all have their own flaws and secrets. It is highly recommended for teenage girls in their later years.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: August 2020
RRP: $18.99


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