A Sapphire for September

Hesba Brinsmead was a prolific Australian writer for young people, who has been criminally neglected in accounts of Australian YA. Born and educated in the remote Blue Mountains bush, until she was sent to school in her teens, she lived all over the country, working as a teacher. This is reflected in the breadth of her writing; her many diverse novels are set in urban Melbourne, the north coast of New South Wales, the Tasmanian bush. She was ahead of her time in many ways, writing about race relations and the environment long before such issues were fashionable.

One of my book groups set themselves a project to read a range of her books, and we were so impressed that we've all swapped around our titles so we could read some more. I had already read (and adored) Pastures of the Blue Crane, her best known book, for which she won the CBC Book of the Year, and a couple of other novels, so I chose A Sapphire for September. Set partly in Sydney and partly in the rural hinterland where the characters seek for gemstones, it follows 16 year old Binny and her young friends as they foil the plans of a developer to despoil a beautiful valley, by staking out mining claims all over the land.

It took me three weeks to finish this book. No fault of the writing, or the plot, which I can now barely recall; but sometimes a book is just a prop in your hand as you sit in a hospital waiting room, something to stare at while your eyes and mind glaze over with anxiety. My family underwent a medical crisis while I was reading A Sapphire for September. It's no reflection on the book when I say that I will never want to pick it up again.

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