Australia is ruled by the SIF. The Special Investigation Force controls everything. Water, food, fuel … women’s bodies.
18-year-old Ora’s decision to move in with her aunt is a bad one. She’s landed herself in the middle of nowhere with a deluded activist who wants to change the world, one illegal birth at a time. Sooner or later someone is going to die and Ora doesn’t know where to turn.
The beach is her only sanctuary and it’s here that she meets Jake, thoughtful and experienced, who encourages her to live a little. So why is it that as soon as she starts to have some fun, everything goes dangerously wrong?
A gripping coming-of-age adventure that will leave you on the edge of your seat.
I was absolutely thrilled to be contacted by Charlotte Young asking if I’d like to read her new novel, Ora’s Gold — a book about love, family and the places we find sanctuary, set in dystopian Australia. Not only was this book one of the best Australian dystopians I’ve read, but the key ideas that it contained were ones that I haven’t encountered a lot in YA fiction and I was surprised by how unique Ora’s Gold was. While I did have some problems with it, ultimately this was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I loved exploring the after-effects of a disease that ravaged the world, despite how frightening this new Australia was.
One of my favourite aspects of this novel was definitely the setting. Even though it contained all the stereotypical signs of a dystopian society — a totalitarian government, the mindless sheeple that follow all the rules, and that small group of rebels that contribute to the breakdown of this oppressive society — there was so much about this book that was new and previously unexplored in other dystopian novels. Perhaps what was most intriguing was the way in which the ‘government’ (or the SIF) controlled births and treated pregnant women, prompted by the outbreak of a deadly disease. Seeing this through the eyes of an 18 year-old girl felt incredibly authentic and it enabled me to forge such a deep connection with her and thus fall into this world seamlessly.
However, there was a bit of a lack of clarity about the specifics of the disease that turned the world into the dystopian wonderland it was. Perhaps it was explained in the mini info-dump in the first chapter, but it would have been a lot clearer by intermittently giving us pieces of information about the type of world Ora lived in. While I did form a picture of this new Australia very quickly, I felt that the world-building could have been executed better through the reveal of information in short bursts throughout the first three or four chapters — I didn’t have to know everything all at once.
While I do think of Ora’s Gold as a dystopian, it could just as easily be classified as a coming-of-age novel. Especially towards the last third, I slowly drifted away from caring so much about setting and the SIF and instead became more invested in Ora’s personal journey and I loved seeing her grow as a person because of the situations she was forced into. Her development from a shy, easily-manipulated teenager who was too scared to stand up to the SIF into a incredibly brave young woman who was unafraid to fight for what she believe in was quite extraordinary. Whether you’re a fan of dystopian novels or coming-of-age ones, Ora’s Gold is a book you’re bound to fall in love with.
This story also raises issues about women’s rights and body sovereignty, which were topics I hadn’t seen addressed in this way before. Not only did it open my eyes to the way in which some women are treated even today, in societies that could be compared to the horrifying dystopian versions of the world we’re so interested in reading about, but it also made me think about to what extent the government should be able to control society and the fine line between being protective and becoming a totalitarian nation with little freedom. Even though the occurrences in this novel are fictional, the act of taking a mother’s child away is a reality of some parts of the world we currently live in, and through reading Ora’s Gold I was able to experience the pain and devastation of such a threat.
While this book isn’t really meant to be a comical, there was one aspect of it that had me practically on the floor laughing: the over-appreciation for New Zealand. Yes, New Zealand is a lovely place and I feel like it’s filled with the kindest, friendliest people in the whole world, but the extent to which this novel referred to this country was laughable. It was like every problem could be fixed by going to New Zealand. At times, Ora’s Gold actually felt like an ad for New Zealand — but I wasn’t annoyed or frustrated by that. If anything, it made me love this novel even more, because the heaviness of the themes in it needed some comedy to balance it all out, and the constant comments about New Zealand definitely provided that.
One of the biggest issues I had with this book was one scene that could potentially throw it into the New Adult genre. I don’t usually have an issue with sex scenes in YA novels because they don’t often go into a lot of detail, but the way that scene was written in Ora’s Gold made me question if it would be placed in the YA or NA section of bookstores. Of course, I’m not against writing about these kind of things in YA because sex is a thing that some teenagers experience and we should be able to write about that, but I just don’t think it needed to go into that much detail as it could be crossing that line into NA. That is not a scene you want to be reading when someone could easily look over your shoulder and glance at your book, peoples.
Despite the few tiny issues I had with this book, it was ultimately an enjoyable read that offered us the best of the dystopian and coming-of-age genres. Ora’s Gold gives a refreshing glimpse into a world still in fear after the outbreak of a deadly disease and raises questions about women’s rights and body sovereignty in a brave and unique way that will stay with readers long after the turning of the final page.
How gorgeous is that cover?! Do you think you’ll be reading Ora’s Gold soon? Do you prefer dystopian novels or coming-of-age ones? Are you a fan of NA? How many Aussie dystopians have you read? How important is solid world-building to you? Let me know down below!
Thanks to Charlotte Young, the author of Ora’s Gold, for sending me a copy of her book!
Check out orasgold.com for more information and to buy a copy.