Author: Monique Mulligan
Publisher: Pilyara Press
Publication Date: 8 March, 2022
Copy: Courtesy of the Author
Wildflower is a sensitive and insightful look at a side of life that too many of us are acquainted with, and shouldn’t be. It is beautifully written and hits hard, I dare you to read this book, immerse yourself in the time and the characters and not be moved or changed by the experience.
I loved the…. actually you know what, I’m not sure that loved the story is the right way to say it. There is a lot to love about some of the characters and the lessons they learned about life but overall I’m not sure it’s a story to love. I was moved by the story, and I became very attached to it very quickly. There is a lot of beauty in Wildflower, in it’s characters and their friendships.
Wildflower is told on two distinct timelines almost 20 years apart with characters whose ages aren’t that different to mine.
Much of the story is told in the summer holidays of 1979-80, a blistering hot suburban Sydney summer. I am a little younger than the 11 year-olds at the centre of this timeline, but not so much younger that their childhood experiences were unfamiliar to me.
The 79-80 timeline is told from the point of view of Jane Kelly, who funnily enough seems to have a birthday very close to mine. She’s been the victim of bullying at school and all that she wants is a friend, so when new neighbours move in next door she wishes desperately for a friend her age, and is fortunate that part of the family is a girl exactly her age.
The two become friends, best friends, and spend as much of the holidays together as they can; but the friendship isn’t equal in the way that Jane believes a best friendship should be. There isn’t the sharing of secrets, and the spending all their time swapping between each others houses but Jane will come to realise that the importance of the friendship to each of them was equal. Acacia may have kept a lot to herself but she needed Jane just as much as Jane needed her, maybe even more.
Acacia may have kept much of herself and her life private from Jane, and she didn’t invite her over but she showed Jane how to be brave and stand up for herself even when she was scared, and even when she was smaller. She was an old soul that had seen more than any 11 year-old should and she saw a lot more in people than Jane, she could read people and recognise the things that sometimes they may not even recognise themselves.
The second timeline begins in August of 1999 when an unnamed woman finally breaks free and embarks on a new life, one small and scary step at a time. It isn’t until right near the end that we discover who this woman is and how she fits into the earlier timeline, but I can tell you she wasn’t who I thought she was.
Our unnamed woman has spent years dreaming of escaping the relationship that was slowly killing her, and she feared one day actually would. I spent much of the book trying to work out who she was, and changed my mind more than once. I think that was intentionally, and cleverly, done by Mulligan to show us that it really can happen to anyone.
The two timelines have similarities but also demonstrate how much progress was made in the decades between, but still there is much to do and we need to keep making the changes and having the hard conversations.
The earlier timeline is, in my eyes, the more important and the main story but 1999 is also extremely important to add another layer and perspective to the earlier events.
Wildflower has a lot of difficult conversations, and most definitely says a lot of things that many of us think; and have been thinking for many years.
I don’t really want to say too much and add spoilers but I don’t know what I can say that doesn’t. Mulligan explores so many cultural norms of the time that, thankfully, are beginning to change though maybe not rapidly enough.
Wildflower explores domestic abuse, family relationships, friendship, bullying, community and the extremely outdated notions of ‘boys will by boys’ and minding your own business. It is set in a time where things were beginning to change and strong female characters like Mrs Kelly were beginning to stand up for the change they needed, and want to set a better example for the generations to follow.
Mrs Kelly sat her children down one day to explain that they needed to know how they deserved to be treated and to settle for nothing less, to teach both her daughters and her son about respect and being valued. To set them up to do better, and to be better than some of the experiences that shaped their younger lives.
This is a story that hit me close to home, that explores so many of the different issues raised; the attitudes that must change and the bravery in the face of danger that even the youngest feel when it comes to protecting those they love.
It’s a book that I will be recommending to many of my friends because I think it will resonate.
Wildflower is a book that says I see you, you can survive this. A book that says you aren’t alone. A book that says your struggles and your sacrifices will be remembered. A book that says it’s never too early, or too late, to make the change.