The Truth About Peacock Blue

Rosanne Hawke
AUD $15.99
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A powerful story about one girl's fight for justice in Pakistan.

Everything changes for Aster the night her brother dies. Suddenly she's the only hope of the family, and instead of an early marriage to a boy from her small village in Pakistan, her parents decide to send her to the government high school in her brother's place. Aster is excited about this unexpected opportunity for a career, but, as a Christian, she is unprepared her for the difficulties of attending a Muslim school: her fellow students are far from welcoming and one of her teachers takes an instant dislike to her. One day, she is accused of intentionally making a spelling mistake to insult the holy prophet. Her teacher is incensed and accuses her of blasphemy. A violent crowd forms outside the school and Aster is taken to jail to be tried at a later date.

A young social justice lawyer takes up her case, and Aster's Australian cousin, Maryam, starts an online campaign to free Aster. But will it be enough to save her?

Author bio:

Rosanne Hawke lives in rural South Australia. Many of her books been shortlisted or notable in Australian awards; Taj and the Great Camel Trek won the 2012 Adelaide Festival Award for Children's Literature and The Messenger Bird won the 2013 Cornish Holyer an Gof Award for YA literature. For ten years Rosanne was an aid worker and teacher in Pakistan and the Middle East. She is a Carclew, Asialink, Varuna, and May Gibbs Fellow, and a Bard of Cornwall. In her books she explores culture, history, social issues and relationships. She also teaches Creative Writing at Tabor Adelaide. The Truth about Peacock Blue is her twenty-fourth book.

Category: Young adult fiction
ISBN: 9781743319949
Publisher: A&U Children's
Imprint: A & U Children
Pub Date: September 2015
Page Extent: 272
Format: Paperback - B format
Age: 13 - 16
Subject: Young adult fiction

Teachers Notes

Teachers reviews

A story that seems so far removed from our everyday reality in Australia, and yet …. Peacock Blue raises lots of issues that young people in our cities particularly are becoming aware of, issues on which they will need to take a personal stand in just a few years time when they swap the classroom for the voting booth. We see here, albeit often in extreme form, the embodiment of bullying in several of the teachers and gaolers who have power over Aster, and Rosanne Hawke’s question (p.70), “How much bullying of others is born of fear and the desire for power?” resonates through the pages of her story.

This book is a novel, a work of fiction, but the subject material is both compelling and current, aided by frequent references to real people like Asia Bibi and Malala Yousafzai, whose examples of determined perseverance provide encouragement for Peacock Blue, the novel’s embattled 15 year old heroine, languishing in solitary confinement under the mandatory death sentence for being found guilty of blasphemy in Pakistan.

Especially poignant in our current society with its heightened sensitivities to problems attributed variously to youth marginalisation, Islam or its distortions, and to a general lack of community engagement across our cities, Rosanne Hawke brings the disparate points of view of young people across the world to focus by her use of the device of “quoting” from social media blogs and comments regarding Peacock Blue’s situation. The overall effect of this is a positive one. While there are some negative points of view espoused, they are answered and shamed by more reasoned contributors. The dangers are not minimised however: note Sammy’s warnings to Maryam to be careful with her blog as extremists may seek to do her harm despite her living in a safe, western culture. We would a do well to maintain such vigilance, given recent events.

The great value of this book, as well as its being an easy, readable book which both boys and girls should find engaging, is the forum it provides for discussion of the issues it raises. These are issues with which our community at large is currently grappling and on which today’s students, the future policy makers and, by their part in the democratic process, the deciders will be called upon to determine. Peacock Blue could provide good stimulus material for such debates within subjects as diverse as English, Community & Family Studies, and Personal Development, Health and PE. While the protagonist, Aster Suleiman Masih, is a girl and a Christian, the issues are broader than her personal circumstances and relevant to all faiths and individuals.

“I think we need to respect each other’s views, not try to make people the same as us, but allow them to inquire,” says Tamsin in an online comment (p.211). Not a bad place to start for looking at conflicts, whether inter-personal or global, is it?

A helpful 3-page glossary of Urdu and Arabic words, which occur mostly in dialogue, is included as are Notes describing the cases of Asia Bibi, a mother of five on death row for blasphemy, and Christians Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, whose calls to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy law resulted in their assassinations. Probably Malala Yousafzai’s story is well enough known not to need explanation here.
Recommended for young adults, from Year 8 onwards.
Julie Davies

I have long been a fan of Rosanne Hawke's gentle approach to storytelling. Her latest release The Truth About Peacock Blue, does not disappoint. In fact, in this novel we see Hawke at her very best, leading readers into vividly drawn worlds in which her characters, despite being small of voice, manage to speak loudly and poignantly to her audience.

The Truth About Peacock Blue tells the story of Aster, a fourteen year old Christian girl who lives with her parents in a small village in Pakistan. Following the death of her brother, her parents decide to invest in her education only surviving child, Aster. The decision to educate a girl is an unusual one for families from rural areas in Pakistan, but is one which is tentatively embraced by Aster, who had anticipated an early arranged marriage. As the “hope” for her family, and a girl of a minority faith, Aster must navigate her way through a minefield of challenges wrought by the largely Muslim context of her school and country. She prevails with dogged determination, until the worst happens. She is accused of blasphemy.

From the very first page this is a story which quietly aches. Aster may live a deceptively simple existence as a girl in a small village in Pakistan, yet her life is far from simple. Politically and socially, Pakistan is revealed as a beautiful, yet complex nation where life for women and those of religious minorities is rarely trouble free. Even before the issue of blasphemy appears, this is a tale of great loss. The story begins with the loss of her brother and rape of a close friend and continues to unfold with additional stories that readers will find most harrowing. While the issues explored in this narrative are sensitive and deeply complex, Hawke succeeds in crafting a story with straight forward language that will be highly accessible to her YA audience.

I anticipate that teachers will readily find use for this novel across a range of curriculum areas with students from year 9 upwards. In the English classroom it would be suitable as a shared class text where a close analysis of the themes and broader context of the story could be fleshed out even further within the HaSS curriculum. The story would pair well, holding its own, along the likes of Harper Lee's, To Kill a Mockingbird. The Asian context and perspectives presented in the story fulfil current ACARA requirements at grade 9. Furthermore, in schools where Religious Studies is taught, the story could be a powerful segue way to a discussion on the topics of religious diversity, tolerance, and the various issues emerging within contemporary societies both at home and abroad.

The Truth About Peacock Blue, is a timely novel highlighting with immense sensitivity the reality of the turbulent times we now live in. Rosanne Hawke engages with these issues honestly, in a manner that will incite open discussion, whilst communicating a hope-filled message that uplifts and will frequently inspires active engagement in today's youth.
Tanya Grech Welden, Secondary English Teacher, Gleeson College, SA.

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