For Kirrali, life in 1985 was pretty chill. Sure, she was an Aboriginal girl adopted into a white family, but she was cool with that. She knew where she was headed – to a law degree – even if she didn’t know ‘who she was’. But when Kirrali moves to the city to start university, a whole lot of life-changing events spark an awakening that no one sees coming, least of all herself.
Story flashbacks to the 1960s, where her birth mother is desperately trying to escape conservative parents, give meaning to Kirrali’s own search for identity nearly twenty years later. And then she meets her father…
Becoming Kirrali Lewis by Jane Harrison
(Jane Harrison is a playwright, critic, novelist and descendant of the Muruwari people (Bourke and Brewarrina area)
Published: June 1st 2015 by Magabala Books
I am always on the lookout for more books about university student life, so I initially picked up this one up out of curiosity. I really liked Kirrali’s complicated coming of age journey – especially since it’s one that starts to really take off after she graduates high school. Kirrali delves into her new courses and relationships but finds that no path is simple.
You are on a journey to discover who you are and where you belong but becoming yourself is not a destination. It never ends.
Kirrali’s meeting with both her birth mother and father leads her to confront her own expectations and perceptions of who she is. Her birth mother’s perspective and parallel story is a great contrast to Kirrali’s wary perspective and gradual journey of understanding. When Kirrali does meet some of her birth father’s family, she is also a little awkward but the openness of her Aboriginal community helps her open up too. There are many more moments where Kirrali’s internalisation of growing up culturally white has affected her beliefs, which are later challenged when she experiences systemic racism firsthand. One of the darker moments is when she and Kirk, another Aboriginal student experience an instance of police brutality. These experiences help Kirrali reform her own perspective on life and where she wants to direct her own abilities and studies in the future.
I liked how Kirrali maintained her relationship with her understanding adoptive parents while exploring new ones with her birth parents. There are many relatable facets to Kirrali’s coming of age story. She outgrows old crushes, questions her perception of community, makes new friends and delves into fresh experiences. I’d recommend Becoming Kirrali Lewis to any reader looking for a young adult/new adult book with a heroine who comes to understand her own ability to change and draw strength from that.
*A book recommendation to celebrate NAIDOC week in Australia: