Little Gods

Jenny Ackland

Little Gods
Allen & Unwin
21 March 2018

Little Gods

Jenny Ackland

Shortlisted for the 2019 Stella Prize.

As a child, trapped in the savage act of growing up, Olive had sensed she was at the middle of something, so close to the nucleus she could almost touch it with her tongue. But like looking at her own nose for too long, everything became blurry and she had to pull away. She’d reached for happiness as a child not yet knowing that the memories she was concocting would become deceptive. That memories get you where they want you not the other way around.

The setting is the Mallee, wide flat scrubland in north-western Victoria, country where men are bred quiet, women stoic and the gothic is never far away. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is smart, fanciful and brave and on the cusp of something darker than the small world she has known her entire life.

She knows that adults aren’t very good at keeping secrets and makes it her mission to uncover as many as she can. When she learns that she once had a baby sister who died - a child unacknowledged by her close but challenging family - Olive becomes convinced it was murder. Her obsession with the mystery and relentless quest to find out what happened have seismic repercussions for the rest of her family and their community. As everything starts to change it is Olive herself who has the most to lose as the secrets she unearths multiply and take on complicated lives of their own.

Little Gods is a novel about the mess of family, about vengeance and innocence lost. It explores resilience and girlhood and questions how families live with all of their complexities and contradictions. Resonating with echoes of Australian classics like Seven Little Australians, Cloudstreet, and Jasper Jones, Little Gods is told with similar idiosyncrasy, insight and style. Funny and heartbreaking, this is a rare and original novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn’t always set you free.


Olive Lovelock is curious, independent, and beguiling. She is growing up between her parents’ home in a small town in the Mallee and her cousins’ farm, a (long) bike ride away. For Olive, Grade 6 is becoming less enjoyable by the day – there are rivalries, tensions, and troubling assumptions – but the summer holidays are coming, and she has her best friend, Peter, and three cousins for company and adventures. There is also the joy of their rescue ‘Australian raven’/crow, Grace.

Olive’s family is close – her mother and aunt married two of the three Lovelock brothers; her third aunt, Thistle, lives with the other; and the remaining Lovelock brother is a frequent visitor to the farm. Yet despite their deeply interconnected lives, the adults don’t seem to share important things with Olive – except Thistle, but Olive is learning that while Thistle is often the only person who will tell the truth in full, she can also be unreliable.

When Luke Sands, a bully from a notorious local family, tells Olive that she had a baby sister who died, Olive is almost consumed by her determination to find out what happened and avenge the death of her sister. This is not, however, a young adult detective story. Rather, it is the tale of Olive’s search for identity in her transition to adulthood, and of her growing awareness that the world is not as simple as it once seemed.

Tragedy has visited this family more than once, and throughout the novel it’s impossible to avoid the suspicion that it will visit again. These past misfortunes are varied, layered, and revealed incrementally as the reader is absorbed in Olive’s mission. Jenny Ackland has brought a recognisable world to the page and her characters are realised with empathy and catch at the heart.

Elke Power is the editor of Readings Monthly.

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