Brilliant First Nations Debut

Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

Image of the cover of the book Song of the Crocodile by author Nardi Simpson to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover image features the bare branches of a lone tree against a starry night sky. There is a black crow on one of the branches.

Song of the Crocodile is the debut novel by First Nations author, Nardi Simpson. It is set in the fictional ‘gateway’ town of Darnmoor, home to the Billymil family. The story is told through three generations of women from the Billymil family. Along with the rest of the Indigenous community of the town of Darnmoor, the Billymil’s live in the Campgrounds – makeshift camps that are located out of town, past the dump, with no running water or electricity.

Meanwhile, in town, the white settler families live comfortably in their homes, with their neatly manicured gardens and watered green lawns. The differences between the black Indigenous community in the Campgrounds and the white settlers in town are stark and uncompromising.

As the town of Darnmoor marches towards ‘progress’, the divide between the white settlers and the Indigenous community widens. Though the rigid status quo is mainly upheld through threats and soft power, rather than the overt violence of yesteryear. The inhabitants of the Campgrounds struggle to navigate a world that doesn’t want them. Some of the Indigenous community bravely try to affect change, others survive by keeping their heads down. There is deep segregation, discrimination, racism and violence inflicted on the Indigenous men, women and children.

The story culminates in a violent act that shakes the town to it’s core. Nardi Simpson heightens the suspense in this multi-layered story by intertwining the legend of the mighty crocodile into the final shocking events.

Reading the story of the three generations of Billymil women, I felt deep sadness and shame for the treatment of our First Nations people. But the shame and sadness that I felt sat alongside me as I read and never took over from the story itself.

Yes, Song of the Crocodile is an emotional read, but it is also wise, warm and gentle. It is an astonishing and brilliant read with great depth, a compelling storyline and beautifully written.

I would encourage everyone to read, not just Song of the Crocodile, but any book written by First Nations authors. It is so important that we search out and continue to read books about First Nations people, told in their own voice. When you do, you are rewarded with stories that are contemporary, wise, warm, brilliantly written and brimming with First Nations people’s culture, sense of community, spirituality and connection to the land.

Song of the Crocodile was read in Yugambeh Country, Gold Coast, Australia.

Other notable books by First Nations authors:

Swallow the Air and The Yield by Tara June Winch (Fiction)
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko (Fiction)
Talking to My Country by Stan Grant (Non-fiction)
Loving Country, A Guide to Sacred Australia by Bruce Pascoe (Non-fiction)
Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller (Young Adult Fiction)
Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy (Children’s Non-fiction)
Bindi by Kirli Saunders (Middle School Readers)

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Cover of the book Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid featuring multiple images of the same picture of a girl talking to a security guard with a small child at their feet. Image is to accompany book review on the same page.

Much of the hype surrounding this book is based on the premise of a racially charged incident that happens late one night at a supermarket when an African-American girl called Emira is falsely accused of kidnapping the young, white child she babysits. According to the inside cover of the book, this incident ‘sets off an explosive chain of events.’

Personally, I found ‘Such a Fun Age’ less explosive and more sizzle, with the whole incident at the supermarket wrapped up by page seventeen and only loosely connected to the other events that unfold throughout the story. Emira herself is so embarrassed, she rejects the offer of another shopper’s video footage of the altercation, insisting she would rather just forget that the incident ever took place.

Emira is the most likeable character in the book. She is a 25 year old, university graduate whose current working life consists of three days a week babysitting Briar and two afternoons a week transcribing text for the Green Party at their Philadelphia office. As is typical of young people her age, she is preoccupied with going out with her friends, meeting boys and worrying over her finances and career (or lack thereof). Not to mention the impending problem that she’ll no longer be included on her parents’ health insurance once she turns 26.

The novel is written from the two alternating perspectives of Emira and her boss, Alix, a white, 33 year old mother of two (toddler Briar and baby Catherine) and a successful social influencer. Alix is insecure and narcissistic. Following the incident at the supermarket, her efforts to get to know her black babysitter better are self-serving, obsessive and cringe-worthy.

As the story unfolds, Emira starts dating a white guy named Kelley Copeland. Kelley is kind and sincere in his affection of Emira, however he noticeably surrounds himself with black people and has a history of only dating black women.

I thought the character of Emira cleverly represented holding up a mirror to white people’s interactions with black people today. By doing so, ‘Such a Fun Age’ adeptly highlights racism, privilege, class, fetishizing and the embarrassing trend of white people trying to demonstrate just how progressive and woke they are. 

This book may not have launched on the trajectory that I thought it would from the incident at the supermarket, however it is a fresh, interesting take on prejudice, class and privilege in America today. ‘Such a Fun Age’ is an entertaining read with stories within the story on topics such as friendship, love and motherhood. I particularly loved the relationship between Emira and little Briar. 

The last chapter is told through the perspective of Emira, who discovers the type of contentment one feels when we shake off the expectations of who we should be and just be ourselves. The story wraps up, not necessarily in a nice, neat bow, but perhaps just as it should.  And not without one final stinging nod to privilege and class.

Published 2019 by Penguin Publishing Group, 320 pages.

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