What We're Reading / June 2023

Have a look at what the Writing NSW team has been reading recently: stories of Country, queerness, grief, coming of age, and speculative fiction.


We Come With This Place by Debra Dank

Jane McCredie, CEO

I recently read Debra Dank’s debut,
We Come With This Place, ahead of doing an event with her at Sydney Writers’ Festival. Dank is a Gudanji and Wakaja woman from the Gulf country of northern Australia, and a writer of extraordinary power. She doesn’t like her work being described as memoir, so I won’t call it that, though it does tell the story of her life, as well as those of family members, ancestors and Country. Dank herself calls the book ‘a strange kind of love letter, written to my place’. 

There are two scenes from the book that will be with me for a long time. The first, an incident of sexual violence perpetrated by a group of white men, left a legacy of harm through several generations of Dank’s family. The other is one of many evocatively conjured stories from Dank’s childhood, telling of the day her grandfather satisfied young Debra’s joking request for fish by plucking live perch from a secret hole in the arid landscape.

The book is a love letter, but also a warning about the need to protect the land we live on and a call for truth-telling about our past. Dank’s literary skill and deep knowledge of Country come together in a work that could teach us all to see what has been hidden.

We Come With This Place, Echo Publishing

Blind Spot by Robyn Dennison

Amy Lovat, Program Manager

It’s been a long time since I read a Young Adult novel but I couldn’t ignore Blind Spot by Robyn Dennison when it landed at my front door. It’s set in Newcastle (where I’m from) and follows the journey of Dale, who’s in his final year of high school. He’s navigating his sexuality, friendships and the future, and coming to grips with the fact his mum left without warning and moved to another state.

When Dale is at a party and walks in on a group of guys undressing a girl, he backs away and runs, finding himself faced with a moral dilemma. Who to tell? Where to confess? And who will be hurt by the information? Then his older cousin comes to stay while she’s recovering from an eating disorder, and the two build a closeness that helps Dale move through the stresses of school, home and his love life.

Blind Spot reminded me of Losing Face by George Haddad, one of my favourite books of 2022. The story is vulnerable and compelling, and I particularly enjoyed the relaxed treatment of queerness (no traumatic ‘coming out’ story or bullying narrative), as well as the sensitive and introverted narration inside the mind of a teenage boy. Blind Spot comes out on 4 July 2023.

Blind Spot, Text Publishing

Watch Over Me by Nina LaCour

Adara Enthaler, Project & Communications Officer 

Watch Over Me
has been hanging around in the back of my head ever since I finished it. The YA novel follows Mila, recently graduated from high school and aged out of the foster system, who moves to a community that houses, teaches and supports a slew of foster kids who need a refuge more than anything. Needing a home herself, Mila accepts a job at this farm community on the coast as a tutor, and cautiously becomes part of their big family.

But the farm is also home to what seem to be actual ghosts, and the longer Mila stays, the more her past rises up to haunt her. As she watches younger members of the house work through their pain, sadness and trauma, Mila begins to feel left behind, and her overwhelming guilt over what happened in her past threatens to drown her. Nina LaCour’s writing is heartbreakingly lyrical, taking the reader by the hand through Mila’s lonely life and guiding us forward towards a gentle, inevitable confrontation between Mila and the self she lost.

There is an element of horror at times in Watch Over Me, but the narrative is intentionally crafted in a way that you never feel truly afraid for Mila. The way it navigates trauma, loss and queerness is absolutely beautiful, and the book itself is a fairly quick read. I’m looking forward to reading it again when I feel like having my heart slowly broken and put back together.

Watch Over Me, Text Publishing

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

Elliot Cameron, Membership & Administration Officer 

I became a fan of Ursula K. Le Guin’s thought-provoking approach to speculative fiction a few years ago when I read The Left Hand of Darkness, a work that feels in many respects well ahead of its time for how it tackles societal gender roles and turns them on their head. I later read her 1973 short story ‘The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas’, which similarly left an impression for how it speaks to contemporary ethical discussions.

The Dispossessed has been a far slower burn for me. I have been gradually chipping away at it for the better part of a year now, not because I’m enjoying it less than her other works – on the contrary, the density and depth of ideas it provokes leave me thinking about every page I read far longer than it takes me to read them. Much like when I first read George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm as a teen, or the many times I have binge-watched David Simon’s The Wire, reading The Dispossessed feels like peering into the mind of an incredibly intelligent writer who has made a conscious decision to turn that intelligence towards scrutinising the systems of the world we live in. The way Le Guin uses a science-fiction backdrop to lay bare the bones of capitalism, socialism, and human nature itself feels both elegant and inarguable.

I am approaching the finish line, and as with any work of art it’s possible my thoughts could change drastically for better or worse depending on how things wrap up. But what I can say with confidence is that The Dispossessed, even more so than the standard already set for me by Le Guin’s other works, will certainly go down as one of the most insightful novels I have ever read.

The Dispossessed, Gateway

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