The Mimosa Tree
From the Blurb
It’s the summer of 1987 and Mira is beginning her first year at uni. She’s got a radical new haircut, and an all-black wardrobe — she should be having the time of her life.
But it’s hard to get excited about anything when you’re being smothered by your crazy Italian family, enrolled in a course you’re not interested in, and expecting nuclear warfare at any moment.
Even a new best friend and the magnetic boy from art class can’t wipe away the image of a looming mushroom cloud. And Mira’s right. Her world is about to explode, but it’s not the skies she should be checking.
Do you remember the first time you read Looking for Alibrandi? I do. My friend Emily M. had gotten the only copy out of the school's library and was really enjoying it, so I went and got a copy out of the Bull Creek Library. I remember that when I opened it, a sewing needle fell out of the spine. It was one of those books that made me ache with truth. Yes, I thought, this is most likely the real world. I was only about ten or eleven and had NO IDEA what was ahead (trust me, if I had I probably would have built a tunnel under my house, gone there, and not come out until about now), but when I read that book I learned two things: one, that being a teenager sucked no matter who you were, and two, that things got better. I now own a copy of that book and the only regret I have is that I cannot read it for the first time ever again.
But I did recently read The Mimosa Tree and it was similar in all the right ways. Like Josephine Alibrandi, Mira is an Italian Australian who resents the way that her family's staunch Italianess keeps her separate from her peers. She has a messed up relationship with her dad, who when I picture him, looks a little bit like the guy from the old WA Salvos adds. Oh yeah, and her Mum has recently gotten over a nasty bout of cancer. Or so they all think. Mira is starting uni and not so sure she likes it when the family discovers that Sofia's cancer is back, and it's spread to her bones. Like it or not, they have to pull together to get through it.
This is a book that is so vividly evoked, that at one point I found myself craving a jam donut just because Mira's aunt Siena was eating one. It's hard to express how eagerly I devoured this story.
My one criticism has to do with the odd way in which the story is situated in time. Ostensibly, the book takes place in the eighties, and Mira spends a large part of her time waiting for the Cold War to explode into her life and wreck everything. Yes, this is supposed to be a metaphor for the way she hides herself away from the world because she is scared of what might happen, but it seems to me that the same thing could have been achieved by haiving her afraid of the war on terror. Aside from the odd mentions of band names, the book does not feel so much different to now for me, and it seems a little alienating to some potential readers for the setting to be 'historical'. However, I have to wonder how much the writer is drawing on her own adolescence- and truth be told, the setting did not bother me all too much. I would have perhaps liked the Western Australian setting to be a little more recognisable as well.
To Sum Up
This is an amazing book and I have been recommending it to everyone I know. It has a powerful message about overcoming grief, and the obstacles that we place in our own path to happiness. It is a book that will make you sob until you are empty, but leave you with the hope of a heart full of love.
I give it five stars.