A monthly update from our Teen Advisory Board
This month the teens were fortunate to have a visit from debut YA author, Eleni Hale, who spoke about her novel Stone Girl, published in May earlier this year.
Stone Girl is the story of a young girl, Sophie, whose mother tragically dies when she is only thirteen. Sophie has no choice but to enter the foster system in Melbourne. We see her transform, due to her terrible experiences, from an innocent, conscientious student to a street-wise, delinquent drug addict, but her experiences are written with such perception and empathy that the reader feels completely invested in Sophie’s life and desperate for her to find a way out of her living hell.
Eleni wrote this book knowing first-hand the horrors of the foster system, having lived it for a number of years as a teenager herself. She spoke about her stubborn determination to defeat the system and make something of herself. She always had a love of writing and when doing a writing course at Deakin University, she wrote an essay based on her experiences. Her supervisor suggested she had the beginnings of a book. It took her ten years and endless revisions to write that book, but she found herself an agent and Penguin books quickly snapped up her manuscript for publication.
The teens were fascinated by the story and horrified by the injustices inherent in the foster care system in Australia, where teenagers are separated if they form friendships or relationships, constantly moved from house to house, and thrown out of the foster care system the moment they turn eighteen. Eleni told us that half the kids who leave foster care at 18 will end up in homeless shelters or on the streets. Only 1% of kids who go through foster care will end up going on to university or holding down a stable job. These are terrifying statistics and we all felt empowered to work on changing that system.
We also had a great discussion about issues that the teens are concerned about, including bullying both within school and on social media, a lack of diverse representation in society, the environment and the impoverished state of Australian politics. It was a fascinating discussion that ran overtime and was highly engaging. The teens found Stone Girl rewarding reading and highly recommend it.
You can read some of their thoughts below.
Teen reviews of Stone Girl by Eleni Hale
‘An absolutely amazing book that explores the unseen backgrounds of the Australian foster system. The character development throughout the novel was amazing, making you fall in love with Sophie with every flip of the page. The novel really highlights the idea that your past experiences can affect the person you are today, and while it doesn’t define you, it does affect you and therefore they should always be remembered.’ – Jessica Johnson
‘ Stone Girl is a gritty, confronting, and important novel about teens in the Australian foster care system, and the damage it does its adolescence before tossing them into the world without support. This must-read novel has a twisty, edge-of-your-seat plot, but also brings to light the largely untouched topic of the toxicity within our foster care system.’ – Zach Edge
‘Hard hitting, powerful and provocative, Stone Girl is sure to capture your attention and your heart. This book is going straight to the top of books everyone must read!’ – Marley Rocha
‘Eleni Hale’s novel Stone Girl portrays the struggle of the young protagonist Sophie, who after experiencing the trauma of her mothers death, is thrust into the foster care system and has to learn to navigate this new unstable world. The novel provides an important insight into the foster care system and is a vivid portrayal of one girls struggle to survive and find hope again.’ – Liliana Mansergh
‘A powerful book which fights the secret cruelty of the foster care system with the power of words and empathy. Stone Girl more than earns its place on the daunting shelf labelled: confronting.’ – Luci Whitelake
‘Based on real-life experiences, Stone Girl provided a rare glimpse into the Victorian foster care system while not holding anything back and thank god for it! It’s raw and authentic voice made me feel like I was actually living and experiencing the events of the book firsthand, which allowed me to more deeply understand the issues of Victoria’s foster system that are so rarely discussed or confronted, despite still being relevant today. This was such an important read and I can’t wait for whatever’s next by Eleni Hale.’ – Xiao-Xiao Kingham
‘ Stone Girl is a book every single person needs to read. Not only is it an engaging, deeply thoughtful read, it also reveals the difficulties of growing up in Victoria’s broken residential home system, the difficulties of growing up in a world where you’ve already been written off. It will open your eyes, it will make you angry, and it will make you realise that we need to make some changes around here.’ – Ngaire Bogemann