I haven’t read this book ever before, but it was read aloud to me when I was in primary school. I was fortunate that my teachers kept up a daily book-reading session and also that they chose books very well for my class. They seemed to hit the right content for most of us. We had the John Marsden Tomorrow When the War Began series of course, but far more striking than having characters actually being at war was the behaviour of the characters in People Might Hear You.
Frances has lived with her Aunt Loris in rental housing for some time now, and Aunt Loris is finally marrying. Frances is used to moving, and is curious about her new family and permanent home, but there is something a little off about it all. The doors lock the women inside the house, the girls have never been sent to school, and there’s a cellar in the house stocked against the imminent threat of war. People Might Hear You focuses on the fear, seclusion and misinformation that are used to propagandise cult members. The desire to please, love and fit in is exploited, and access to people from outside the group is discouraged.
It wasn’t a happy book, when I first lay back in the cool room and closed my eyes to listen. I resonated very deeply with Frances, and her isolation, indignation and fear were so vivid I felt them as my own for months. Re-reading it now, there’s some distance from the intensity of my first experience of the book. I can see now a lot of the lies that humans, particularly adults, tell themselves that allow them to become caught in cults, and that changes the way I’ve perceived the book. Frances’ age and the perspective of youth make her able to see what others can’t.
Having experienced the book both as a child and an adult I have to say that though it’s powerful at any age, I got a lot more out of it as a child. Both because I was right there in Frances’ shoes, and because it helped me to understand my own parents and other adults in my life. I recommend it to everyone, but I feel a little sad that people coming to it as adults may miss out on some of the immediacy and usefulness of the story. One big interesting note is that as a child, I thought the book had a very abrupt and unsatisfying ending. As an adult, I see a hope and opportunity I couldn’t see then. I wonder if this has to do simply with having more legal independence, or from knowing more about the world. I still do wish to this day, that I knew what happened next.
Strangely enough, though Klein’s a well known Australian author and People Might Hear You pings on a lot of online bookselling websites, there’s very few reviews. I’m not linking to any, because the only one that was more than a summary of the book itself ignored spelling and punctuation, and spoiled the ending. You can always visit her author page at Penguin Books however. I’ve read most of Klein’s books, and loved them all, so I highly recommend her as a writer.