Lucy and Linh

by Alice Pung

Paperback, 2018





Ember (2018), Edition: Reprint, 352 pages


In Australia, Lucy tries to balance her life at home surrounded by her Chinese immigrant family, with her life at a pretentious private school.

User reviews

LibraryThing member crashmyparty
I’ve had some trouble writing this review. I just really loved this book, and that makes them so much harder to review. I will try but chances are I won’t even be coherent…

Laurinda is the funny and insightful story of Lucy Lam, who is given a scholarship place at the exclusive Laurinda Ladies College. This is no ordinary school. Academics is not enough – the young ladies of Laurinda must be passionate, proud and representative of their school. Embodying all of these qualities – and more – is a trio of girls known as the Cabinet, more powerful than the other students and even some of their teachers. Lucy observes the Cabinet and their ways, and as they take her under their wing, Lucy’s identity and integrity is at stake as she struggles through the new world of privilege and wealth.

I loved this. I really did. Written as a letter to her friend Linh, in Laurinda Lucy explores the world of her new exclusive private school that have graciously accepted her as a scholarship student – an Asian girl from the poorer side of town, no less. There are the Cabinet at the centre, with the rest of the school bowing to them and the ability to even dethrone some teachers – nobody wants to cross them, even when what they’re doing is wrong. Lucy can’t believe some of the stuff she sees but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. She is even taken in by the Cabinet, she goes to their pristine houses, she follows where they lead, she observes them up close. How did three teenage girls end up in such a position of power?

It is only when other students treat the Cabinet like it has power that they actually have power of the rest of the school. It all depends on how they are perceived by the other students. If the rest of the student body stopped treating the Cabinet like they were more special, more important, then they would find they are no different to anybody else. Lucy’s courage was what stood out to me in this novel more than anything else, although I loved the writing, the vivid picture of Mrs. Lam sewing clothes in the garage and the family eating on newspapers, and Lucy’s biting observations, I just really loved her courage. You will cheer for her, like I did, you will want her to show them all, to prove them all wrong. What transpires is better, even though in a way she did show them. See? I’m rambling now, in an effort to avoid spoilers!

This is a fantastic book that I enjoyed from start to finish. A novel of listening to your own voice, of finding yourself, in a competitive school environment where its easy to lose your sense of self. A diverse cast of characters and the witty writing by a fantastic new voice in Australian fiction really bring this story together and will make an enjoyable read for everyone. I hope there will be more fiction from Alice Pung!
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LibraryThing member shelleyraec
Alice Pung has received critical acclaim for her memoirs, Unpolished Gem and Her Father's Daughterwhich explore her experience as an Asian-Australian.

Laurinda is Alice Pung's first fiction novel and features a teenage girl, Lucy Lam, who is awarded the inaugural 'Equal Access' scholarship to the exclusive Laurinda Ladies College.

Lucy is the daughter of Chinese/Vietnamese 'boat' immigrants who live in a 'povvo' area of suburban Australia. Her father is a shift worker in a carpet factory while her mother, who speaks almost no English, sews in their garage under sweatshop conditions while caring for Lucy's baby brother. As an Asian-Australian scholarship student without a background of wealth and privilege, Lucy is an outsider at Laurinda in more ways than one, but wants to fit in and take advantage of the opportunities the school affords her.

Initially Lucy feels confident she will be able to hold her own at Laurinda but she soon realises that there is a cultural and social divide she is at a loss as to how best negotiate. In particular, Lucy is both fascinated with and horrified by the dynamics at the school which contrast sharply with her experience at Christ Our Saviour College. Laurinda is in thrall to three young women known as the Cabinet who wield a frightening amount of influence within the school with the tacit approval of the headmistress, Mrs Grey. Amber, Chelsea and Brodie are manipulative and cruel yet have cultivated an aura of power that none of their peers, and few of their teachers, are willing to challenge. As Lucy is absorbed into the school's insular environment she is caught up in the ethos of Laurinda, and nearly loses herself, but eventually finds a way to forge her own path.

The narrative is presented in the form of a series of letters addressed to 'Linh' whom we assume is a friend of Lucy's from her previous school (view spoiler) The author's portrayal of Lucy is compassionate, sensitive and achingly real. Lucy is smart, capable and strong, but she is also a teenager and as such is beset by bouts of insecurity and vulnerability. Though I do not share the same ethnicity nor background as Lucy, I found her, and several of her experiences, easy to relate to.

Part satire, magnifying the pretensions of private school and the aspirations of immigrant families, part poignant coming of age tale, Pung draws on her own experiences which gives the story a sense of authenticity. Privilege, racism, class, identity and integrity are all themes explores in the novel. Pung also skilfully captures the almost universal experience for teenage girls negotiating high school where a small number of students often have an inexplicable cache of power and wield it without mercy. While Lucy is not the only victim of the Cabinet's bullying, she also has to negotiate the additional stress of cultural discord and the expectations of Laurinda's principal who demands Lucy is suitably grateful for, and repays, the privilege she has been given.

The writing is sharp and witty with characters and scenes that are vividly portrayed. The pace is good and the structure works well to deliver an interesting surprise. Laurinda is a clever, entertaining and insightful novel, suitable for both a young adult and adult audience and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to either.
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LibraryThing member mjlivi
Think Mean Girls with a sharper focus on class and race.
LibraryThing member Salsabrarian
Lucy is a daughter of Chinese immigrants from Vietnam. They live in a diverse working-class Australian neighborhood where her mother sews counterfeit piecework in the garage and her father works in a carpet factory. Lucy wins an "Equal Access" scholarship to Laurinda, a prestigious private girls' school. In letters to Linh (actually her inner self??), Lucy relates her travails of trying to fit in and understand the school culture, particularly when the "Cabinet" ostensibly brings her into the group. It's a searing immigrant story and also a universal story of finding one's place. The mean girls of the Cabinet are stunningly cruel and calculating. At a certain point it becomes painful to anticipate their next move. What was somewhat problematic for me was the voice. Lucy tells her story in the voice of an adult with years of hindsight. How many teens would have the perspective to say things like: "...her face looked like one at a morgue, a face made up by an artist who had not known the deceased in real life and so had given her green eye shadow and plum lips" or the femininity at Laurinda being "so cloistered and yet brimming with stifled sex" and "the young girl-to-old woman transition that skipped sexuality altogether." Aside from that objection the prose is fluid and lyrical with devastating hits of humor and pain.… (more)
LibraryThing member saresmoore
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! It is much more insightful and credible than the subject matter (high school drama) and genre (YA) let on. I appreciated Alice Pung's cultural perspective, but it only served as decoration for a foundation of good writing and even better storytelling. At first, I was frustrated by the loosely epistolary format, but as I savored her carefully crafted narrative, I should have recognized that same intentional creativity in her chosen mode.… (more)
LibraryThing member caitief
A really beautifully written novel. I found myself tearing up at time, laughing at times, and always cheering for the main character.

Highly recommend


Original language


Physical description

352 p.; 5.56 inches


0399550518 / 9780399550515


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