Authors: Lisa Portolan and Samantha McDonald
Publisher: Big Sky Publishing
About the authors
Lisa Portolan is a journalist and author from Sydney. She has previously published two books, including bestseller Happy As (Echo, Melbourne).
Samantha McDonald is an Australian director and producer. She has a degree in Law and Communications. Growing up there was always a focus on looks and it took her years to reclaim her own story.
The main character in Pretty Girls, Evie, is based on Samantha’s own story, though fictionalised.
What has brought Evie, a thirtysomething single parent back to Redfern? Her excuse – her dying father in hospital with cancer.
There is no love for her father, an abusive embittered old man. Her return is almost instinctive: part obligation, part need; a last chance? Life during her early Redfern years was hard; her brother and mother did not survive. The trauma of Evie’s teenage years is told through a series of flashbacks to mid 1990s Redfern interspersed with her current-day struggle.
Set against the backdrop of family violence, racism, and predatory male attitudes towards stereotypically attractive girls, Lisa and Samantha do not hold back on the gritty realism. However, it is told honestly, not overdone or grotesque.
It takes a relationship with Indigenous ex-boxer Mr G for Evie to begin to find her way. Initially she wants closure and an understanding of who she is, there are questions needing answers.
The relationships with her own daughter and Mr G set up a juxtaposition with her own life and these relationships are important for Evie’s eventual self-reconciliation.
There is a certain amount of irony in this story, Evie’s survival is likely to be largely due to a fighting spirit inherited from her father, but it is tempered with empathy, not bitterness. It is this duality that Mr G finds attractive.
Pretty Girls could easily be dismissed as just another account of male violence, racism, and hardship. But this is not a story of exposure or retribution; it’s a story of healing and self-reconciliation, of Evie taking back her life story. It is about finding love and of giving and receiving, a story of optimism.
Reviewed by: Frank Thompson, June 2020
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group