Laurinda is an enthralling and beautifully-written book by Alice Pung.
Laurinda is an exclusive school for girls. At its hidden core is the power of The Cabinet – a trio of girls who wield power over their classmates and even some of their teachers.
Entering this world of wealth and secrecy is Lucy lam, a scholarship girl with sharp eyes and who isn’t really sure of where she belongs yet. As she watches The Cabinet in action and learns about their power, she finds herself in a battle for both her identity and integrity.
Laurinda was definitely one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I’ve never read any books by Alice Pung before but I had been hearing how amazing this book was ever since it came out. Coincidently, Alice was doing a talk at my local library, so I decided that it might be interesting to go to, and so I bought Laurinda so I could read it and perhaps she could sign it. I always love meeting authors and hearing them talk about their books and their tips on writing because I have a passion for writing as well. Also, getting them to sign my book to me personally is a huge bonus. For that moment in time, someone who has published a successful and just all-round awesome book, knows your name, and that’s a really special feeling.
When I first started reading Laurinda, I couldn’t put it down. This is definitely one of those books that just draw you into the world of the main characters. It was as though Alice was at an open door, beckoning me inside her world. I loved spending my time with Lucy and at Laurinda. This book was extremely well-written. Everything that happened, all the conversations, the looks that the girls gave one another, the quiet banter in the classrooms, all of that felt exceptionally real. It was like I had literally been transported into this world; that’s how well-written it was. This book was paced perfectly and flowed smoothly from beginning to end. Laurinda was one of those books that grabbed me from the very beginning and didn’t let me go until well after the last page.
One of the things that I loved most about this book was how intriguing the life of our main character, Lucy, was. She is the daughter of asian ‘boat’ immigrants who live in not a very wealthy area of suburban Australia. Her father works at a carpet factory while her mother, who speaks next to no English, sews in their garage, which isn’t technically legal, and also looks after Lucy’s baby brother. It was really interesting to get to know what Lucy’s family was like. I feel as though a lot of people don’t realise the lives that other people are living in different parts of the world, much less practically next door. I live in Melbourne, not all that far away from where Lucy would live. However, before reading this book, I really had no idea that people lived like Lucy did. I feel that we’re always so focussed on our own lives and we forget to open our eyes to the lives that other people are living around us. For me, this book really showed me the lives that people like Lucy are living.
This book really gets exciting when Lucy is granted an ‘Equal-Access’ scholarship to Laurinda – a school home to the wealthy and privileged. When Lucy goes to this school, it is really evident how much of an outsider she is compared to them. But Lucy wants to fit in and take advantage of the opportunity she has been given. Seeing Lucy first start at Laurinda was also an eye-opener to what people coming into this type of a school from not a very wealthy background would feel like. She was shocked by the uniform all the girls at this school had to wear, how the students treated the teachers, and even how the students treated each other. Lucy saw that it was really different to her old school, but she was confident that the people at Laurinda wouldn’t make her into someone she was not. Seeing Lucy become both fascinated and horrified at what was going on at Laurinda was one of the best parts of this book. I loved seeing what went on at Laurinda and I felt as though all the school scenes were really well written and they seemed completely realistic. Lucy was also a very relatable character in many ways.
One of the things I liked most about Laurinda was experiencing the student dynamics, and in particular, finding out the power of the Cabinet. The Cabinet is a group of three young women at Laurinda who have massive power and influence within the school. The members of this group, Amber, Chelsea and Brodie, are all manipulative and cruel, despite wearing a sweet and innocent facade. Lucy saw that because of their level of influence, no one was willing to challenge their positions as students and therefore they could get away with almost anything. It was both shocking and amazing to see how people like this could get anything they wanted and do anything they desired because of their reputations as being ‘good students’. I feel as though seeing the Cabinet in action made me correlate some of their characteristics to some of the girls at my high school. I think that every school has a group of people who wield even a small amount of power over others, and it was so intriguing to see what these people could get away with and where they power stopped.
Another great thing about this book was its overall message. When Lucy starts at Laurinda, she feels as though she may begin to lose herself because she begins to get caught up in the goings-on of the school. Lucy undergoes a dramatic transformation throughout this book. She begins as a girl who thinks she knows where she belongs, but as the book progresses, she realises that she may not be completely certain of her place in the world. I think this represents high school because everyone starts knowing who they want to be, but they may lose sight of that as their time at a school progresses. When you’re thrust among two hundred strangers at the beginning of high school, I feel as though it can be immensely difficult to be you. There are so many people judging you and it’s often really hard to find people that you feel confident enough to be yourself around. Alice Pung wrote in Laurinda that ‘it’s so much easier to be a hero when you know where you belong’. I feel as though this is definitely true, and knowing where you belong can often be really hard in high school. But the overall message of this book is to not let people determine who you are and that you should make your own decisions in life and not be swayed by others.
As the end comes to an end, we see Lucy forging her own path and becoming her own person. She makes an inspiring speech about how it’s okay to look down every once and a while and that looking down won’t cause you to lose your place. This really hit me at an emotional level because it made me realise how focussed I had been on achieving my goals that I forgot to see what was happening around me. I feel as though we all need to look down from time to time to admire the ground we’re standing on and that looking down isn’t a bad thing. It’s often perceived in society that stopping and standing still isn’t a good thing because it means you don’t know where you’re going. But how can you know where you’re going when you don’t know where you are? This was another really inspirational message in Laurinda – look down to admire the flowers that grow through the cracks in the concrete at your feet. You won’t see the wonders that are around you if you don’t stop for a second to look.
Another thing I loved about this book was the way that it was written. This book is presented in the form of a series of letters addressed to ‘Linh’, who we aren’t really sure exactly who that is, but we presume that it’s Lucy’s friend from her old school. Because we never really knew who Linh was until the very end, this book was extremely intriguing. I loved that little bit of mystery and I’ve very happy with how that worked out in the end.
Overall, I loved reading Laurinda. This is honestly one of the best books I’ve read in a while and I recommend it to absolutely everyone. This entertaining and insightful novel is one that everyone must read. I’d give Laurinda by Alice Pung a score of 10 out of 10. If you’ve read this book, please let me know what you thought of it!