“She would be pissed off about me invading her space, I’m sure. But she is gone, completely and utterly not here.”

The Protected by Claire Zorn (UQP, 2014) won last year’s CBCA Book of The Year Older Readers and was shortlisted for the 2015 Inky Award and 2016 WA Premier’s Book Awards. I only just read it because I disliked her first book The Sky So Heavy and never finished it. I’m glad I realised my mistake and tried Claire Zorn again.

The Protected by Claire Zorn

This book! So much heartache, so much truth about the reverberating pain of grief. Why did it take me two years to find and read The Protected!?

“I wish I could rewind and start high school again, go back and do things differently – just small, seemingly insignificant things.”

The refrain of every kid anywhere, but especially those who are bullied. I wish I could tell every teenager, what happens in high school isn’t the blueprint for your life. The Protected goes some way to doing this.

That scene where Katie hands her sister a razor and tells her to shave her legs, but Hannah doesn’t know to use soap and water – excruciating. I winced at every nick. And her pain never lets up. The time she joked to Katie,

“You’ll probably be dead before you’re thirty.”

Hannah’s sister Katie died a year ago. No one in Hannah’s family is coping as the court date looms for her Dad, who crashed the car that killed Katie, and is overwhelmed by guilt. Hannah’s Mum doesn’t believe her Dad’s memory loss and won’t leave the house. Hannah’s Nanna shops and cleans for the family and badgers her daughter to snap out of it. Mrs Van next door tries to help with cake and friendship.

Hannah vacillates between her two broken parents. But how can she grieve for her sister when their relationship was … complicated. And how can she forgive herself the inconsequential things that flapped butterfly wings.

Hannah’s parents make her see Anne, the latest installment in the counsellor carousel. Katie joins her sister for every counselling session, with a snarky running commentary on the psychologist, the questions and the funniest answers. I don’t know why Hannah doesn’t repeat any of these answers out loud, I’m sure sarcastic Anne would appreciate them.

Anne the school counsellor is another well written therapeutic interaction I’ve read recently. When Anne explains to Hannah that she’s having a panic attack and what she can do to calm herself, this is so well done.

“I despise the term ‘passed away.’ It sounds peaceful and graceful and kind of magical. I don’t think there was anything peaceful about Katie’s death.”

With the start of the school year, Hannah meets transfer student Josh. He doesn’t know her history and the unwritten rules of Hannah the pariah. Strange things start happening. There’s subliminal socialising, sharing lunch out of bounds with the goats, and the offer of vengeful samurai services.

“What am I to do? Left to choose between two lonely women fixated on death. I choose the one with the cake.”

Always choose the cake.

I really disliked the cover design of The Protected (may have contributed to not wanting to read it). Claire Zorn posted a shot of the German cover to Instagram and I love it so much! Makes me want to leap into those butterfly wings.