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On My Bookshelf: Sweet Adversity by Sheryl Gwyther

Published by Angus & Robertson

an imprint of Harper Collins Children’s Books


I waited in excited anticipation (read impatience) for this book to be available after meeting the lovely author, Sheryl Gwyther, at a writing retreat last year (and online sometime previously), and know the detailed research that went into creating this nail-biting adventure set in the time of the Great Depression.

I finally managed to get a copy (the last in the store by the time I got to my favourite bookseller in town) and have savoured reading it over the course of the past week, delighting in the story, the setting, and the characters (and don't you just love that cover?!).

I am fascinated by history, and although the more modern times represented by the Great Depression in Australia are not my usual reading fare, I was impressed and entranced by the detail that Sheryl Gwyther included.

As I read the story of Adversity McAllister, an orphaned girl living at the Emu Swamp Children’s Home under the guardianship of an unscrupulous matron, the life and times of this era came alive in stark reality as we came to understand the severe hardships that would have forced her parents – travelling actors – to leave her in the orphanage in the first place, and saw many families in dire straits, struggling to make ends meet.

But the story was not designed to depress or distress. Into this setting comes the irrepressible Addie, who does everything she can to make life for her fellow orphans more fun, until she finds herself on the run from a sinister theatrical agent who intends to sell her to the highest bidder to make his fortune.

Addie is brave and strong, but impulsive, too, and she gets herself (and others) into hot water once or twice as she heads off across the countryside, doing everything she can to steer clear of the evil child-dealer and Matron Maddock, two suitably unpleasant and irredeemable characters.

Hero of the story she may be, but Addie is also vulnerable and childlike. It is easy to identify with her and sympathise with the decisions she makes, although they may not always be the best or the ‘right’ decisions. She always has the best of intentions, however, and tries to think the best of everybody.

I loved Addie, and her Shakespeare quoting cockatiel, and could only think what a fabulous children’s drama this story would make for TV, with lots of cliff-hanger endings to each chapter, and strong characters that the audience will love to love (or hate!). Tricky, though, with a half-built Harbour Bridge and other landmarks now hidden underneath contemporary Sydney. I'm sure that our film and TV industry is up to the challenge...

Sweet Adversity is a fabulous book, perfect for older primary school children who love a good adventure rolled up in a strong historical background. I can also see it as a good resource for schools (what better way to introduce a bit of historical context?) that could spark more than a few classroom discussions and open the way for further research.

Most of all, however, it is a great read.

Now... I want to know how we can campaign to see it turned into that drama series for TV...

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