REVIEW: Cherry Beach by Laura McPhee-Browne

In brief: Hetty and Ness leave Melbourne for Toronto, but each experiences a completely different lifestyle to what they expected. Ness blooms, while Hetty isn’t doing so well.

The good: This story grabs you by both arms into its intense world.

The not-so-good: I read it in less than 24 hours (it was that good).

Why I chose it: Youth, friendship, travel…sounded good to me. Thanks to Text Publishing for the copy.

Year: 2020

Pages: 223

Publisher: Text Publishing

Setting: Toronto, Canada and Melbourne, Australia

Rating: 10 out of 10

Cherry Beach is an intense read, but a very rewarding one. I read this in less than 24 hours, eager to read more about the characters and their lives in Toronto, no matter how heartbreaking it was. The writing draws the reader in to an almost claustrophobic space – I felt enveloped in the world of Ness and Hetty in the middle of a fog. Despite the sadness of some of the subject matter, I didn’t want to leave their world.

Cherry Beach is the story of two young women who are best friends who decide to leave Melbourne for a working holiday in Toronto, Canada. It should be sweet and light and full of fun, right? It’s not, with the grim realities of finding a place to live and work. But the bigger themes of friendship, love and personal growth are beautiful and nicely juxtapositioned against the sadness of a relationship breaking down. Ness has always been the quiet one to Hetty’s life of the party personality. Ness has also been secretly in love with Hetty for years, but nobody has guessed except Hetty’s ex-boyfriend. Even Hetty doesn’t think it could possibly happen as Ness is just her best mate. They leave Melbourne after Hetty’s messy breakup and things begin to change. Living in a group house, Ness finds that others are interested in her on her own and want to be friends. She finds a job with a friendly workmate who wants to feed her. She also falls in love with Faith, and is joyous when Faith feels the same. It’s intense, but wonderfully delightful as Ness grows and finds that she’s not the boring one consigned to the back of the room. While Ness blooms, Hetty’s star starts to fade. She begins working in an odd bar, with a strange boss and some bad choices in men. She dabbles deeper in drugs and it sends her off the rails, disappearing for days at a time. Ness is worried, but when Hetty returns it become more and more difficult to communicate the way they used to. Ness has always been there for Hetty, but sometimes she just can’t get through to her…

I feel like I could make my way around Toronto without a phone or map after reading Cherry Beach. The city is revealed through Ness’ newcomer eyes, taking in all the sights and sounds carefully and weighing up the options. The city is almost its own character and befriends Ness when she is feeling her most vulnerable. Hetty’s settings seems mainly sharper, darker while Ness projects the life that lives within. The narrative does exceptionally well in showing how different the girls are through their locations, speech and actions. Ness is particularly likeable because of her faults, baldly shown to the reader but attempted to be hidden from the world. We’ve all felt out of place and exposed and Ness’ awkwardness is our memory of it. The writing has a cinematographic feel to it, like it’s all unfolding in front of the reader just before them but they are powerless to stop it. Emotions run high as change shifts Ness’ life and it reverberates through the pages. Cherry Beach is a brilliant piece of writing, mixing the uncomfortable with the excitement of travel and new love and taking those feelings to new heights. Recommended.

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