When the Ground is Hard

Shortlist year: 2020

Shortlist category: Young adult literature

Published by: Allen & Unwin

Adele loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy, with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah.

As they share Jane Eyre, Lottie's gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and together they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. When a boy goes missing on campus, Adele and Lottie must work together to solve the mystery, in the process learning the true meaning of friendship.

About the author

 Malla Nunn

Malla Nunn

Born and raised in Swaziland on the far edges of the British Empire, Malla Nunn attended a boarding school specially set up for 'mixed race' children. After her family migrated to Australia to escape apartheid, Nunn graduated with a double degree in English and History and then earned a Master of Arts in Theatre Studies from Villanova University. Faced with a life of chronic under-employment, she dabbled in acting and screenwriting. She married in a traditional Swazi ceremony. Her bride price was eighteen cows.

Judges’ comments

'When the Ground Is Hard' is the book we need now, as, around the world, we awaken to race matters with heart. It explores the marginalisation of people of 'mixed race' and the complexities of race, gender and class with an unparalleled poetic prowess.

Championing matriarchal strength, this engrossing narrative welcomes the reader into the isolated world of a Swaziland boarding school, where two girls from different realms battle bullies, teachers, fires and racism, while creating a sanctuary over a shared copy of 'Jane Eyre'.

Nunn's profound ability to shape compelling characters and relationships allows the reader to witness the truest meaning of friendship and family and her intricately woven ancestral stories and proverbs made this the sort of book that lives on in the reader's thoughts after it is finished. 'When the Ground is Hard' is a poignant coming-of-age novel and an important addition to Australian young adult literature.