Although Eliza Henry Jones has published two novels for adult readership – Into the Quiet (2015) and Ache (2017) – P is for Pearl is her first foray into capturing the internal and external worlds of teenagers, which is remarkably and authentically captured in this novel, most likely because she wrote it while still in high school. Distinctly Australian in tone and setting, Henry Jones’ new novel explores the power of grief, isolation, friendship and first love by adapting the themes of her adult fiction for a younger audience.
Set in a small town in Tasmania, P is for Pearl follows the life of Gwen, a young woman starting to deal with the loss of her mother and younger sibling, which happened years earlier. Her father refuses to speak about death; their passing is taboo in their home. But despite his resistance, memories of Gwen’s mother begin to surface, and her ability to repress the loss crumbles.
Unable to fathom a live beyond the boundaries of her small town, Gwen’s friendships sustain her. Henry Jones has a gift for capturing the intense love and loyalty between teen best friends, and her depiction of the friendship between Gwen and best-friend Loretta is one of the finest in young-adult literature we’ve read in some time.
Intergenerational friendships are also given time in this story, with Gwen’s at times very funny dynamic with the local police officer serving as a surrogate to the unfulfilling one she has with her father and stepbrother. The police officer provides guidance and a steady presence as Gwen navigates her first blush of love, while also battling with her family’s loss and her sense of unsteadiness over her own future.
This is a profoundly moving and significant contribution to the Australian young adult canon, and this reviewer only hopes that this will not be the last time Eliza writes for young readers – for an author to so deeply understand and connect with their audience is a rare and special thing.
About the author
Eliza Henry Jones was born in Melbourne in 1990. She was a Young Writer-in-Residence at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre in 2012 and was a recipient of a Varuna residential fellowship for 2015. She has qualifications in English, psychology and grief, loss, and trauma counselling. She is currently completing honours in creative writing – exploring bushfire trauma – and works in community services. She lives in the Dandenong Ranges with her husband and too many animals.