The Protected by Claire Zorn, paperback novel, 254 pages, published by University of Queensland Press in 2014.
Life for Hannah is far from normal. It’s only been a year since her sister died, her father was crippled and her mother disappeared into herself. Life was crap for Hannah even before Katie died. She was being severely bullied by the kids at school, harassed, assaulted, cyber-bullied. Having a dead sister has stopped the bullying, but her wounds will take a long time to heal. Her life is screwed up as she paddles the deep waters of grief and guilt and pain. Though her days are dark, some hope seeps into her life when new boy, Josh, takes an interest in her, and she begins to build a rapport with the school counsellor.
I loved Claire Zorn’s previous book, The Sky So Heavy, but I love The Protected even more. It was a heart-rending tale of loss and survival, of guilt and hope. Tears may have been spilt whilst reading… but there were hopeful smiles too. The plot was compelling and very realistic. I read it quickly and thought about it for quite a while after I’d finished.
After the accident, Hannah’s parents were broken. Her father was physically crippled from his injuries, and her mother fell into her grief and forgot to keep living. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain of losing a child, but they still had Hannah, and she needed them more than ever. They failed her. I can’t help thinking that Katie was their mother’s favourite, and because she couldn’t move forward, she almost lost both her daughters. What incredibly engulfing pain she must have been in to let Hannah down like this. I feel sad just thinking about it. This was a realistic insight into what the loss of a child can do to the family unit.
Hannah got under my skin, she kept me awake at night, she made me feel her pain, her guilt, her grief, her burden, her loneliness. And then from the depths she made me feel hope. I felt compassion for Hannah, but I also liked her. She was quiet and studious, but she was also full of strength. She was rather distrustful of Josh at first, but I liked the way that he persisted in getting to know her for her, irrespective of what the other kids thought.
I didn’t really like Katie. She seemed superficial, egotistical and selfish, but she probably would have grown past that had she survived her teenage years. Her relationship with Hannah might have had a chance to improve beyond high school, but during their teen years, Katie was pretty mean to Hannah. She was more concerned with her image than with how her sister was coping with school, with the fact that she had no friends, with the intense bullying. How does a sister watch that and not try to help? Hannah always lived in her sister’s shadow, and even in death Katie lingered over her.
The Protected is an incredible book that should be read by all Australian high school students. I thoroughly recommend it. I am excited to see what Claire Zorn produces next!
* The Protected was the winner of the 2015 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year in the Older Readers category.