So Much To Tell You by John Marsden is an Australian classic and I can’t believe I’ve not read it before now. It’s one of those books that I always thought I had read, but when I sat down with it last week, it wasn’t familiar at all. Which made me feel like a very Bad Australian.
Anyway, I’ve read it now and I can see why it’s such a classic. It’s raw and emotional and so authentic, which is particularly impressive when you consider this female-dominated story, told in diary style from the perspective of a Year Nine girl, was actually written by a 30-odd year old man. It’s amazing how right the voice is.
Despite being written more than two decades ago, the story is still very much relevant to today. Change out the references to tape decks and snail mail for iTunes and Facebook and you would think it was written today. I believe it’s because emotions and relationships and the messiness of life never really change, no matter what trappings society is obsessed with at the time. And it’s these things that Marsden captures so brilliantly in So Much To Tell You.
The protagonist is a young girl starting a new boarding school and being forced to keep a diary for English class. Her family has sent her there in an attempt to get her to talk again, as she hasn’t spoken since a traumatic event that left her scarred on the inside as well as the outside. While she initially remains closed off and refuses to talk to anyone, she slowly begins to open up in her journal. You learn, bit by bit, exactly what has happened to her through her diary entries. You also see her slowly becoming more confident, as others show her kindness and she begins to connect, however silently, with the people in her life.
But nothing is straightforward or perfect in this book, because life isn’t that way. The protagonist takes one step forward and two steps back. She’s conflicted about not only the new people she meets, but the old ones from her “former” life. Her family in particular arouses contradictory emotions, and her struggle is laid bare in her diary. Her relationship with her father is particularly harrowing.
But it is perhaps her relationship with herself which is most poignant of all. Her scarred face represents her confused sense of identity; something that is further reinforced by the fact that her name is never revealed until the very end. When you do see it, it’s a powerful moment, and you realise how far she has come to get where she is. Then the last line of the book completely hits it home – but I won’t spoil it for you. You'll have to read this masterful little book for yourself.
Published: 2012, Hachette (25th anniversary edition). Originally published 1987.
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