Book Review: Where We Begin by Christie Nieman. A thought-provoking read.

Where to begin (haha, see what I did there?) with a book that held such a vague blurb—it ended up making me shed a tear at the end. Not entirely because of the ending itself but of the characters, the rawness, the relatability, the racism that poured through this book, and the oblivious privilege! Gosh, another book that took me by surprise and made it to my 2020 favorites list.

Seventeen-year-old Anna is running into the night. Fleeing her boyfriend, her mother, and everything she has known.

She is travelling into the country, to the land and the grandparents she has never met, looking for answers to questions that have never been asked.

For every family has secrets.

But some secrets - once laid bare - can never be forgiven.

Thank you to Pan Mac Millan, who sent a final copy for a review. In no way does this influence my opinion. For further books by Pan Mac Millan, visit here:

Immediately we’re drawn into the world of Anna, yes we have questions as she rocks up on her grandparents’ doorstep unannounced but Nieman wrote it mysteriously where we’re not entirely left in the dark. We can come up with our own theories as the book flows gradually at a steady pace. One moment you think you know what’s going on, then—BOOM—something else occurs. Yet not too much to tear it away from the central idea. There was foreshadowing—once, if I’m not mistaken, and it was presented well enough for us to make a judgment but not cloud around it.

Nieman’s descriptive language was beautiful to read. Not too detailed and not lacking to a point where you’re just reading a book. The way she explained the countryside, it’s as if I was there with Anna exploring unfamiliar surroundings as she went. At the end of the book, I always glance at the acknowledgments and author’s note to perhaps see how thorough the author goes into for research and wow! I’m happy. Particularly at the start of chapter thirteen.

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Anna was an ordinary teenager who had goals and dreams. Nothing stood in her way of achieving them. Until recent events. Until her boyfriend and her family’s past blowing up in her face. Throughout the entire book to me, it felt like Anna was the bystander of what had to erupt eventually within her family, and then there’s she with her own problems to deal with. She’s smart, caring yet knows when to put her foot down and say, enough is enough. Yet I wished she looked at some situations through the eyes of others. I know, she went through a lot. I don’t want to spoil this wonderful book, but she went through A LOT in a span of what? A few weeks? Overall, it would’ve made some of her decisions easier if she saw it from someone else’s point of view (Nassim, Basil, Leonie, or her mother).

Gosh, there’re so many characters to talk about in this book! Which one to tackle without giving spoilers, hmm… I could talk about Bette, Anna’s grandma who gave me weird vibes. Not the suspicious ones but weird as in, she was there but not entirely there. It sort of added to her age and what she went through with never seeing her grandchild. A few times she calls Anna by her mother’s name because they look so alike. In small ways, Bette added to the plot and moved it further. I wished we’d gotten more from her in the end :(

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I’d love to talk about Hessel, the grandpa who doesn’t like to be called grandpa because it makes him feel old. A small statement that undeniably carries so much weight. Hessel still thought he was the man that he was all those years ago. He’s the typical old man who doesn’t want to adapt and liked things his way. He was dominating, and to poor Bette, he masked it so well. Kudos to Nieman, who wrote such a complex character. Hessel sparked the fury within me. He sort of reminded me of my grandparents and their thinking. That was another relatable trait in this book.

Leonie, who deserved the world from the start! An Aboriginal mother with an awesome kid named Basil. You’ll love him. He added humor and ease to Anna’s country life, who so far had just been surrounded by adults. Yet Leonie was so strong and had such courage for reasons we find out later to stick through all of Hessel’s racist nonsense and the Krause’s drama yet still be there for Bette as a nurse. Compared to when she was younger, now she shrugged Hessel off because times have changed and hopefully, racism isn’t tolerated!

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I loved the mystery, and suspense carried throughout this novel. It didn’t drag and once you think it did, something else filled their shoes for the time being, so I was always on my toes with this one! So much that I read it in less than two days. As things resolved and I realized what would happen, it didn’t tear my excitement away. Rather, it made me more eager to see how it would end!

Racism and privilege are probably the key themes in this book. It’s so widespread and written in a way where you have to read the sentence twice to realize—whoa, that character doesn’t realize how entitled they are or how good they’ve had it compared to a minority. The book delves deep into Anna’s and her mother’s life, and sometimes we get a peek of the past. To know what happened then and to realize what’s being repeated. It’s sad to read. It’s sad to know that the amount of hatred and racism within Hessel is still clear from all those years ago. That Leonie is still fighting this battle like many people of color are today.

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This was one topic that brought me to tears and when Basil explained the Blood Hole massacre. To think about how comfortable and carefree, some people live on stolen land and still spit remarks to those they’ve taken it from. It’s truly tragic.

I had no expectations coming into this book. I think that’s what I love about the mystery. What I loved about this book. The blurb was vague, but enough to make you wonder. Then, as you read, you realize the past is part of a bigger story. I don’t think I’ve ever read about such a ruthless character portrayed so in Young Adult. Then again, show how many books and authors will expose what’s really happening or happened in the world while still making it enjoyable to read. Making it emotional enough where we’ll live on with it and hope to pass on to others. So, after all my tears (especially shown in chapter thirty-four) I recommend this to everyone. Every person who loves to read, who needs the further insight of how the Aboriginal people suffered daily, teenagers who need a wake-up call on how grateful they should be, teens going through things with no adult figure to guide them, and to all the racist assholes willing to pick up a freaking book.

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Perth WA 6000, Australia