‘I’m not miserable,” I say but she is already turning away from me, sliding her handbag up her arm until it gets jammed tight around her flesh. Mum looks like she is about to cry about my pathetic life. ‘I’m fine, Mum,’ I say nodding encouragingly towards the door, and then because she looks so mournful I add: ‘I’ll make some new friends, okay? At university.’
It’s 1987 and Mira has left school behind and is ready to start university. There she is sure her life will be different. She can be who she wants to be. To celebrate she’s got an all-black wardrobe and a new haircut. But her interfering aunt has arranged a new friend for her – the perfect, rich Felicia – and it’s hard to get excited about studying teaching when she only enjoys art. Then there’s her certainty that the world is going to end soon, anyway, when Russia and America decide which of them will drop the first bomb. It’s true, her world IS about to change – but that change won’t come from the skies.
The Mimosa Tree is an outstanding début novel from West Australian author Antonella Preto. Set in the Perth of the 1980s, it is a haunting tale about growing up, finding one’s own identity and surviving adversity. Mira is embarrassed of her Italian family, but as her world collapses she finds a new appreciation of them and of her new friends, too.
The character of Mira is intriguing and the use of first person narration effective. Mira should be unlikeable – she is self-centred, morbid and down right rude to pretty much everyone. But she’s also self-deprecating and honest, so the reader can connect, and see that her flaws hide a troubled teen. She has a lot to deal with – especially her mother’s recent battle with cancer and her alcoholic father’s moodiness. Her bossy Aunt Via wants to run her life, but seems to never have a kind word, and she has no friends except for one foisted on her by her Aunt, and whom Mira feels she has nothing in common with.
Mira’s story will appeal to teens, as well as to those who were teens in the 80s.
The Mimosa Tree, by Antonella Preto
Fremantle Press, 2013
Available from good booksellers or here.