Living on Hope Street by Demet Divaroren
Living on Hope Street is the impressive debut novel of Turkish–Australian writer and co-editor of the acclaimed Coming of Age: Growing Up Muslim in Australia anthology, Demet Divaroren.
Brothers Kane and Sam remain constantly vigilant around their volatile fly-in/ fly-out father, Dean. When their mother Angie is hospitalised after another violent attack, Kane and Sam are taken into the care of their elderly neighbour, Mrs Aslan. Mrs Aslan dotes on the boys, a particularly cherished task as she’s estranged from her own daughter and yearns to be part of her granddaughter Ada’s life. In other houses on Hope Street, Vietnam War veteran Mr Bailey silently judges and is baffled by his neighbours, and little Gugulethu copes with her family’s recent arrival in Australia.
Divaroren weaves together the multiple narratives of Kane, Sam, Mrs Aslan, Angie, Mr Bailey, Gugulethu and Ada to create a gripping, moving and authentic picture of multicultural Australia. Together the narrators present perspectives from different levels of maturity, cultural backgrounds, sexual identities, family makeup and past experiences. The ripple effects of domestic violence are felt throughout Living on Hope Street. While younger brother Sam reacts with pantswetting and nightmares, teenager Kane is driven towards expressions of anger and violence, demonstrating how easily cycles of violence are perpetuated.
This is an intensely compassionate novel that deals with difficult and hurtful situations without shaming or blaming. While Dean is ultimately seen as being toxic and irredeemable, the reader witnesses the warm beginnings of his marriage, showing both why Angie finds it hard to end the relationship, and the role that alcoholism has played. Similarly, while many of Mr Bailey’s prejudiced beliefs and actions are hard to swallow, he is clearly suffering from PTSD and is able to demonstrate love and good intentions within his family relationships.
Despite the raw subject matter, this is a generous and hopeful look at the possibilities of contemporary Australian life. It’s the younger generation of Sam, Gugulethu, Kane and Ada who are able to transcend the hands they have been dealt, and exercise choice, restraint and kindness towards their neighbours. A highly recommended read for ages 14+.
Leanne Hall is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids. She is also the Grants Officer for the Readings Foundation.