Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 20, 2011

Memoirs of a Suburban Girl (2011), by Deb Kandelaars

Memoirs of a Suburban Girl is not a memoir, it’s a novel, but the author has based this remarkable story on her own life experience and it is compellingly authentic.  Wakefield Press released it in November to coincide with White Ribbon Day, a men’s campaign against domestic violence, and I think it should be widely read.  I’d like to see governments issue a free copy to every young girl the way they provide free Gardisil

I picked it up late last night ‘just to have a little look at it’, and could not stop reading it.  What could have been a dreary memoir is a riveting tale that is impossible to put down (even when you know you should turn the light out because you have to go to work in the morning).  It’s described in the publisher’s blurb as ‘a cautionary tale of an everyday girl who takes a wrong turn’ and what is shocking is the way the teenage girl is so easily charmed by the sadistic older man, and then so easily intimidated into being afraid to leave him.

The voice of this young girl is bright and lively.  The story is set in 1979 and the narrative is alive with references to the pop culture of the period.  Aged only 17, she loves disco music and show-off cars; big hair, those daft platform shoes and lashings of mascara.  Out with a girlfriend to have some fun at a disco, she meets up with the man she dubs SB (‘spunky boy’ who morphs all too soon into something else), and he quickly charms her into bed.  She makes her first fatal mistake when she doesn’t leave him after the first assault, and she makes a bigger one when she doesn’t tell her parents.  Her ghastly situation becomes one that is all too common: an endless cycle of violence – which is hidden from her friends and family who would help, and ignored by those at her work who see but turn away.

The psychological warfare seems to be all in his favour.  She is self-aware: she knows she is submitting to a loser, a pathological liar, and a cheat.  She knows he will never change.  But each time she confronts him he wins, using a combination of assaults and promises of reform, and each time she plans an escape he seems to have an uncanny ability to suss it out and prevent it.

What’s very clear from this novel is that it’s only a lucky combination of factors makes it possible, finally, for her to stand up to this man and deflate him.  Had she stayed with him a little longer, had she been wholly isolated from anyone who might help, had she had children to make her situation even more vulnerable, she – like too many – would have been doomed.  But what makes this book so powerful is that this message is delivered in a voice that speaks to young people:warm and witty, it articulates both that shaky adolescent confidence that can lead to risk-taking, and that desire to love and be loved which motivates so much of what young girls do.

Before you know it, you have an arm around your waist, and a tall, brown-eyed man is saying hi gorgeous and you are smiling back at his Cheshire cat grin, and he is pulling you in close, and you are gone right there and then, which seems absolutely ridiculous, but there’s no denying that at the actual moment his arm slips around your waist, it’s the best you’ve ever felt around a boy – ever. (p3)

There’s a chirpy insouciance even as she contemplates how to get away:

So, back to the escape plan.  You’re almost home, and Led Zeppelin is still playing on the radio because, let’s face it, you could drive from one side of Adelaide to the other and that song would still be playing – well, not literally, but you think it’s one of the longest songs in history, so far anyway.  And thinking about ‘Stairway to Heaven’ makes you think about ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘The Real Thing’ and long songs in general.  Like ‘Evie’, and you think that one had three parts which seemed to go on forever, and it wasn’t one of your favourite songs of all time – it was more like a soapie than a song – but it was really sad at the end when she died.
And you wonder to yourself if all these thoughts about long songs and past lives are just a way for you to avoid reality.

You feel like cheering when she triumphs.

Highly recommended, for everyone.  Parents, siblings, friends and neighbours…

Author: Deb Kandelaars
Title: Memoirs of a Suburban Girl
Publisher: Wakefield Press 2011
ISBN: 9781862549555
Source: Review copy courtesy of Wakefield Press

Wakefield Press Memoirs of a Suburban Girl $24.95
Fishpond: Memoirs of a Suburban Girl


  1. Title…’Memoirs of a Suburban Girl’. Sounds cute/fun/interesting. I’d move in for a closer look.
    Book Cover…interesting…and the title font seems to echo the mood of the title.
    So I would probably pick the book up, but then…
    Subject matter based on snippets I’ve read…’young girl meets older man and falls into a terrible world of violence’…’each chapter rains a fresh round of blows on its young victim’…’domestic violence’…’battered self-esteem’….
    I would probably put the book back down.
    But thanks to your review Lisa, I’d pick it back up and give it a go. ‘chirpy insouciance’ and ‘triumph’ are terms that soften the subject.


  2. I have just finished this great book. I too couldn’t put it down. The author gets inside a difficult subject in a very clever and readable way.

    It really gives you an understanding as to why it’s so difficult to leave a violent relationship.

    Narrated in an interesting voice with humour and lots of quirky and memorable references to Australia in the 80’s.

    Strongly recommended for everyones reading list.


    • It’s surprising that such a subject such as this *is* so readable, it’s not what I expected from reading the blurb.
      Kandelaar is a writer of great skill. I wonder what she will write next?


  3. It does sound a depressing subject matter, and one that I wouldn’t normally seek out. Your review certainly makes it intriguing. Shall keep an eye out.


    • I’m glad if I’ve been able to convince you to seek it out, Louise, because it is the sort of subject matter I would shy away from too. The achievement of this book is that it’s not depressing, as you would expect.


  4. […] Read because:  It was highly recommended by Lisa at ANZLitLovers LitBlog […]


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