Unpolished Gem Essays

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Pung concedes that, ‘In the upper classes in a school like Laurinda, where everyone tries to be racist – to be politically correct – sometimes it can come across as quite racist, because they’re just telling you what your culture is.

Like, assuming that you’re interested in Asian art and history just because you’re Asian.’ Pung’s own high school experiences have shaped her writing.

I read a book about two-and-a-half years ago called , of course), but it made me realise that you can write a book for adults set around 13-year-old girls and boys.

But I did start off with the aim of writing YA, and writing a satire about class – it was a little of both, really.’ The subject of bullying is also explored in , but Pung plays with preconceived expectations, depicting the relentless bullying of teachers by the conniving Cabinet students.

Another is the movement in geographic setting from Alice’s time in China, to her return to Melbourne, to her father’s life in Cambodia and then her much later visit to Cambodia with her father, and finally back in Melbourne again.

This geographic movement is overlaid with the third significant aspect of the structure, its chronology.

‘Because I changed high school so many times, I came to learn that there’s no sense of self that’s fixed – and that comes from being Buddhist as well.

Because at Christ the King I was pretty funny and pretty well-liked, and then I changed schools to one that didn’t have many Asian kids – so suddenly I was the quiet Asian kid, every time I told a joke it fell flat because people didn’t expect Asians to be funny.

It was an interesting experience, and I tried to reflect that in the character of Lucy.’ I do wonder how surprised people will be to discover that Alice Pung’s first foray into fiction is by way of YA.

You need only read the book’s acknowledgments to understand where Pung’s affinity for the readership stems from – she specifically thanks John Marsden and Melina Marchetta for their books, which she read while growing up and which clearly left a mark.


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