Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down

After being named a Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist two years running, it should come as no surprise that Jennifer Down has delivered another gem. But Bodies of Light is streets ahead of her earlier work, bringing the sophistication and craft of her short stories together with her keen insight into the ways we all yearn for connection, and the things that keep us apart.

Maggie (later Josie, then Holly) is raised in foster care by families who are sometimes safe, often not. Her young life is punctuated by abuse, trauma and abandonment, with brief periods of connection offering some respite. This deep loneliness follows her in (and out of) all of her relationships, even in adulthood, as Maggie learns that to keep herself safe means keeping secrets. After enduring trauma that is so much – too much at times – for one person, Maggie runs away from her life, stepping wholly into a new identity in a new country, and burying her painful past. But her trauma and abandonment follow her – the ways in which she has been failed over and over by institutions and individuals make her distrusting and closed off, prompting those she holds close to accuse her of being robotic and emotionless, and ultimately preventing her from finding peace.

Reminiscent of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, Bodies of Light is a harrowing, heartbreaking read where a lifetime of trauma manifests into such deep, inescapable adult grief. Down is clearly (and justifiably) critical of the people and organisations that fail in their care to others. But despite the bleak subject matter, Josie’s voice, dry and sardonic, compels the reader, refusing their pity. Heartbreaking as it may be, this novel is so rich with the details, both visceral and true, of Josie’s life that it will be deeply felt by everyone who reads it.


Bec Kavanagh is a bookseller at Readings Kids.

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Bodies of Light

Bodies of Light

Jennifer Down

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