when the ground is hard

Read When the Ground Is Hard by Malla Nunn

Adele Joubert loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school is going to be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders.
But as they share a copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and Lottie learns to be a little sweeter. Together, they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. Then a boy goes missing on campus and Adele and Lottie must rely on each other to solve the mystery and maybe learn the true meaning of friendship.

I really enjoyed When the ground is hard. The protagonist, Adele, has learned all the tricks to make the popular girls like her and to be one of them… until suddenly she isn’t anymore, dethroned by a new rich girl.

In 1960s Swaziland, broken by Apartheid, a school for mixed-race girls (the richer the kid, the more lenient the teachers; the whiter the kid, the more helpful their « pet » classmates) has an empty room. When Adele is booted out of the Plastics (or their 1960s Swazi equivalent), she ends up in that room, sharing it with Lottie, the daughter of a woman who has boyfriends instead of a proper man, and a dark and fierce girl who fights for what’s hers.

A beautiful tale of a child who starts to understand privilege and to question the establishment – all this with the side story, and really it’s terrible to call it a side story, of a young disabled kid who would do anything to get out of school, wherever that brings him.

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