I raced through this novel in a day (thanks partly to the fact that I was immobilised in bed). It's the story of Lucy Lam, who wins a scholarship to a prestigious girls' school in Year 10 and finds that she turns into a different person -- quieter, less opinionated -- in her new surroundings. And she soon falls foul of the powerful trio, 'the Cabinet', who are the self-appointed guardians of school excellence, taking it upon themselves to weed out those they perceive as weakening the institution -- feeble teachers, conceited students.
I think I almost felt too invested in this book. I went to a school very like Laurinda (albeit in the 1980s, not the mid-90s, when Pung's book is set), and I was also a scholarship girl (albeit from Upper Ferntree Gully, not Stanley/Footscray) -- and I hasten to add, a very white scholarship girl. But I still found a lot to relate to in Lucy's story. My school was a privileged place, and we were constantly reminded how privileged we were -- but paradoxically, the true sources of our privilege were often invisible to us, and thoroughly internalised.
I did spent rather a lot of the novel silently yelling at Lucy to find some better friends -- or just to give the nice girl from the first chapter another chance (which she eventually does). Lucy's desire to both fit in and also to rebel against the injustices she observes, and her love and loyalty to her family and neighbourhood, mingled with shame and embarrassment toward them, were realistic and moving. I'm still processing how I feel about this book; I think I need to discuss it someone! Any takers out there?