The Family String

Denise Picton

The Family String
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The Family String

Denise Picton

Meet Dorcas, a spirited 12-year-old struggling to contain her irrepressible humour and naughty streak in a family of Christadelphians in 1960s Adelaide. She is her mother’s least favourite child and always at the bottom of the order on the family’s string of beads that she and her younger siblings Ruthy and Caleb reorder according to their mother’s ever-changing moods.

Dorcas, an aspiring vet, dreams of having a dog, or failing that, a guinea pig named Thruppence. Ruthy wants to attend writing school, and Caleb wants to play footy with the local team. But Christadelphians aren’t allowed to be ‘of the world' and when their older brother Daniel is exiled to door knock and spread the good word in New South Wales after being caught making out with Esther Dawlish at youth camp, each try their hardest to suppress their dreams for a bigger life. But for a girl like Dorcas, dreams have a habit of surfacing at the most inopportune moments, and as she strives to be the daughter her mother desires, a chain of mishaps lead to a tragedy no one could have foreseen.

This is a superb coming of age story that explores a fraught mother-daughter dynamic, and the secrets adults keep from their children. It is about resilience, and the loves that sustain us when our most essential bonds are tested, and how to find the way back through hope and forgiveness.


The Family String is a wonderful coming-of-age story that explores the bonds between mothers and daughters, and the subtle ways in which they express their love for each other in trying times.

Set in 1960s Adelaide, 12-year-old Dorcas grows up in a family of Christadelphians, a denomination of Christianity whose strict, fundamentalist beliefs forbid worldliness and entertainment. However, this simply doesn’t work for wild-child Dorcas, whose lovable humour, irrepressible cheek and naughty streak goes against every rule and restriction her mother tries to impose. As Dorcas’ dreams of the outside world grow bigger and bigger, so too do the internal conflicts of her family, and Dorcas is left wondering if the ones she loves will ever strengthen their bond again, or if it will inevitably fall apart.

When I was not reading this book, I was thinking about this book. My heart was with Dorcas on every step of her journey. She’s an engaging, lively character whose naïve and trusting nature sometimes brings the reader to grief, as Dorcas doesn’t always understand the full picture of the situation before her. Nevertheless, she quickly lifts your spirits again with her consistent pestering for a dog and knack for causing havoc. You’re intrigued by the community the family is surrounded by and the secrets this town holds; the mystery behind why Dorcas’ older brother Daniel is exiled, the past Dorcas’ mother hides beneath her stony exterior, and the severity with which religious fanaticism can affect a young child’s mind. Social propriety is an all encompassing burden on Dorcas as well as her mother, who longs for acceptance and conformity, no matter how much it may tear apart her family.

Denise Picton’s debut dissects the complexities of family bonds, and how despite the arguments, tension and sometimes even hatred, love will always prosper and win out in the end.

Aurelia Orr is from Readings Kids

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