Laurinda by Alice Pung

LaurindaLaurinda by Alice Pung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a novel about the intersection of class and race in Australia, a country that prides itself on the notion of ‘the fair go’. It begins compliantly enough: the protagonist, Lucy Lam, is successful in her application for the inaugural access and equity scholarship at Laurinda, an exclusive private girls’ school.

Narrated in the epistolary style, Lucy shares her triumphs and doubts, as she, the child of Vietnamese refugees who work in a carpet factory and sew for pittance from home, enters into the elite Catholic society of Laurinda.

Lucy quickly learns that her schooling to date does not meet the Laurinda curriculum standard as she is required to take remedial English via a series of individual tutoring sessions. While she easily understands the explicit educational expectations of her new school, she struggles considerably with the implicit curriculum: the social and cultural values and prejudices that underpin every interaction she has with her peers, teachers, and the school’s administration.

Pung interrogates the rhetoric of access and equity that pervades educational discourse and, indeed, Australian society, revealing it to be less about affecting social change than maintaining the status quo. Laurinda is a tale of noblesse oblige , Australian style.

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About Kirsty Leishman

Currently enrolled in a Grad Dip of Teaching and Learning in anticipation of teaching English and Film, TV & New Media to high school students. Abandoned a PhD in television. Completed an MPhil on zines. Honours in Australian grunge literature. Long time university tutor of media, communications, cultural studies and academic writing. Opinionated. View all posts by Kirsty Leishman

2 responses to “Laurinda by Alice Pung

  • oanh

    While I really liked this book, I felt like it didn’t do quite enough, but then (a) I may have expected too much and (b) it is meant to be YA and teenage me would have completely loved this. I felt like this going from primary to high school, on the cultural back foot utterly.

    I did find Alice Pung dealt with the mental health issues sensitively (no surprise there!)

    • Kirsty Leishman

      I confess, I thought about you while I was reading this, Oanh. Mainly because of the sewing from home.

      What would you like Pung to have done?

      I don’t know that Mrs Grey deserved the redemption she did in the end, but I put that down to the YA aspect too–someone at that ridiculous school had to have Lucy’s back. Eventually.

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