I was pleased to open the 2015 reading account with Laurinda by Alice Pung.
Laurinda is the story of Lucy Lam, Chinese-born, but raised for the most part in Australia. Lucy’s parents speak very little English and work extremely hard for minimum (or less) wage. Lucy wins an ‘Equal Access Scholarship’ to the exclusive Laurinda College, an independent school for girls in Melbourne*.
The story is essentially Mean Girls** set in Melbourne and tracks Lucy’s year at Laurinda. A pretentious, privileged trio of girls (known as the Cabinet), bully whoever is in their way (as well as those not in their way – some bullying is pure folly). From the simple eye-roll or snide comment to elaborate pranks and schoolwork sabotage, the Cabinet keep both students and staff in their place. Of course, ‘mummy and daddy’s’ generous donations to the school always help smooth any ‘misunderstandings’.
“…Laurinda had shown me that just because a person was an adult, it didn’t necessarily mean you had to respect them.”
The Cabinet ‘endorses’ Lucy however she is smart enough to know that her association with these girls comes at a cost.
Laurinda is brutally truthful and says a lot about the culture of the cloistered, ‘prestigious’ independent schools that are found in Melbourne. There’s nothing much to redeem Laurinda as a school and I’m sure many will dismiss the plot as based too much on stereotypes. And yet, stereotypes grow from truth, don’t they?
Pung uses satire to exploit the stereotypes of snobby girls, pretentious schools and immigrant families. A scene where a Laurinda mother asks Lucy to give a cooking demonstration (Vietnamese spring rolls) is fittingly excruciating, as is Lucy’s dad’s attempts to host a birthday party (with ‘good’ food – Maccas).
“…I didn’t tell him that the types of girls I now hung around with didn’t consider McDonald’s the epitome of modern, hygienic, healthy food. They considered it the food of poor, fat bogans. My father’s adoration of Maccas was completely without irony. “The Australian government would never allow advertisements to lie on television,” he once told me.”
Although Lucy faces cultural challenges not common to all teenagers, her insecurities, vulnerabilities and victories are easy to relate to, making the story appealing for both its intended audience (young adults) and adults – seriously, who’d want to be a teenager again? Not me.
“All teenagers are drama queens inside their minds, even the mousiest of us. We load and reload movies of ourselves in heroic postures and outlandish triumphs, movies that, if they were ever to be played in front of an audience of people we know and love, would cause us to shrivel in shame.”
I assume that Pung’s own experience growing up in Australia informed this story and although I haven’t read her memoir, Unpolished Gem, I suspect it’s written with the same wit and honesty as Laurinda.
My only criticism of Laurinda is that the moral of the story was played out a little too obviously (the final scenes are begging to be made into a film).
3/5 A terrific YA pick.
* Laurinda is fictional but, as we all did for Tsiolkas’s Barracuda, speculation about which school Laurinda ‘actually is’, is rife. I actually think it’s a mish-mash – there are no factual geographical hints in the book so I think it’s safe to assume a nice St Catherine’s-Loretto-Ryton-MLC mix. And the Laurinda award of an ‘Equal Access Scholorship’ to ‘create diversity’ would be laughable if these things didn’t actually happen.
** There’s a Mean Girls reunion on the way…