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Author: Jacqueline Rule
Publisher: Spinifex Press

Jacqueline Rule is both a lawyer and a literature specialist, and her debut novel is infused with the finest qualifies from both fields: precision, insight and poetry.

This is the story of Luke, a young Indigenous boy who stumbles further and further into despair and helplessness as his closest supports fall away. He loses, successively, his mother, his mother’s closest friend, his teacher, and a closeknit community of homeless people and the volunteers who advocate for them. Anchorless and misunderstood, he is crushed by the ruthless indifference of both the out-of-home-care and juvenile justice systems.

Though Rule writes with passion and conviction about social injustices, there’s nothing overt about the messaging in her novel. Rather, she depicts the effects of those injustices through her strong storytelling skills, and her use of symbolism and syntax.

Luke is born in the jacaranda season, and the jacaranda’s leaves and flowers are used as metaphors throughout the novel. Through them Rule depicts the fragility of happiness and the transience of security. In Luke’s world there’s no chance of permanency for children lost in the system – Indigenous children whose present is haunted by the cruelties of the past, and whose needs are trodden underfoot.

Echoing Luke’s confusion and helplessness, the syntax is sometimes breathless, hurried, sometimes broken, sometimes staccato and bitter. The novel is anthology-like in structure, with snatches of poetry interspersed with a longer narrative form.

It’s a small book in length, but big in intensity and effect.

Rule said in a recent interview: “Franz Kafka spoke of the novel and of literature as being an axe that can thaw the frozen sea inside us. It’s genuinely my hope that The Leaves might play a small role in this important conversation to advocate for a more empathetic, effective and humane approach to reforming young offenders.”

Every time this book is read, Rule’s hold on the axe will strengthen. A highly recommended read.