I never went to boarding school, and my perceptions of it are (like many things in my life) only based on what I have read in books. There seem to be two distinct types of boarding school books–those that either a) make you want to be a part of it or b) make you glad you aren’t. I’ll Tell You Mine falls into the former category. Through Kate Elliot and her family, Harry has created a picture of familiarity and realism for readers that perfectly encapsulates strained family ties. At its core, I’ll Tell You Mine is a believable and authentic tale about the perils of adolescence and the strength required to overcome past mistakes.
Kate Elliot has a secret. It’s a secret so horrible that her parents have decided it’s best if she becomes a boarding student at her high school to give the family some space. Kate is different–she is a goth and is as introverted as they come when she’s at school. She hasn’t made friends at her school, and chooses to hang out with two other alternative kids after school hours. Although Kate shows some remorse for her actions, she is petrified of the strict boarding house rules. Far from the comforts of home, Kate will now be sharing a room with three other girls, her daily routine is set out for her, the internet is monitored and boarders can’t use laptops outside of study times. For Kate, it sounds like hell. Heck, to me it sounds like hell!
Kate doesn’t make life easy for herself. She refuses to participate and keeps to herself. Her room mates Harriet (the popular overachiever), Jess (the sexually-confused swim star) and Maddy (branded a slut but has a heart of gold) aren’t particularly impressed, but slowly Maddy softens and begins to form a friendship with Kate. It turns out that the two girls have more in common than they first realised, and a strong bond is established between them. Maddy is dealing with mother issues of her own–her mother recently passed away and her coping mechanism requires the attention and affection of young men. Lots of them. As Maddy opens up to Kate, Kate feels more comfortable and reveals her own secret. Unlike her family, Maddy doesn’t reject Kate and when a family visit turns sour, Kate runs away to spend time on Maddy’s farm. In the space of a few short days, Kate notices some changes within herself, and the promise of romance lifts her spirits even higher.
Unfortunately, secrets have a sneaky way of not staying secrets for too long. When Kate’s secret is revealed, her world comes crashing down. But has she grown strong enough to make it through?
I loved this book. I wasn’t a goth or much of a trouble maker growing up, but I found myself directly relating to many of Kate’s emotions and frustrations, despite being a decade or so older than Kate (gross). Kate’s mother is a federal politician and spends more time away from her family than at home, and her attitude stands in stark contrast to Kate’s happy-go-lucky father. Harry has captured the tenuous family dynamic perfectly and as Kate’s parents fight more and more, Kate distances herself further away from her family and into her own world. What terrifies Kate to begin with ultimately saves her–the boarding school structure and the relationships she forms with Maddy and Louise (another outsider) become the pillars of strength that she was lacking at home. When Kate’s secret is revealed, the reader will not be surprised. But Kate’s growth throughout the course of the novel is endearing and heart-warming and serves as a gentle reminder that even when you think you are at rock bottom, there is always a path back up to solid ground.
Books like this from Australian YA authors make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There is a future for Australian fiction, and with authors like Harry just getting started, the future is very bright indeed.