Review: Escape from Cockatoo Island by Yvette Poshoglian

    • Title: Escape from Cockatoo Island
    • Author: Yvette, Poshoglian
    • Series: My Australian Story – Stand Alone
    • Genre: Historical/Adventure
    • Available in the library: No – but we have many others in the My Australian Story and My Story series
    • Publisher: Scholastic, 2013, 9781742832456,$16.99pb.


Book Summary: (from publisher)

I am in the middle of Sydney Harbour, stuck on this place the masters call Cockatoo Island… I am here because I am an orphan, but I cannot help feeling like I have been sent here for doing something wrong. It is 1879 and life in the Biloela Industrial School is tough for eleven-year-old Olivia Markham. Her windswept days are filled with sewing, washing, and avoiding the girls from the Reformatory School. Sydney is rapidly growing and modernising, but Olivia can only imagine what life is like beyond the shores of Cockatoo Island. She dreams of freedom, friendship and, above all, family. Can she ever escape?

Review by Ben Roughsedge: (written for Viewpoint  magazine and will appear in the Autumn edition)

Escape from Cockatoo Island is an exciting fiction book that captures a young girl’s escape from Sydney Harbour’s infamous Cockatoo Island, once a penal colony that housed the Biloela Industrial and Reformatory School for Girls. Yvette Poshoglian wrote this book and cleverly depicts the education, living conditions and day-to-day activities on the island, contributing to an entertaining read for all ages. I enjoyed reading this novel due to the style in which it was written, a diary format in which young Olivia Markham jots down her everyday events in Biloela in her secret diary. As a reader I found the diary format appealing and I believe it not only aided entertainment for the reader, but also helped create the setting based on the way Olivia wrote in her diary; she wrote as if she was speaking the words and this showed us her accent, education and the way people thought back in the 1870s.

Olivia is cast abroad from her home town of Newcastle (where she was orphaned) and placed in Biloela as an eleven year old girl. She meets other girls her age and develops a friendship for the first time in her life. She is forced to master the art of sewing in preparation to be bought by a family in Sydney; she does not enjoy this and finds it extremely difficult to sew. Her talent, however, lies in the classroom; Olivia wants to learn and has a real passion for writing. The island, luckily, has a teacher, who comes back every winter, Miss Godfrey, and she recognises Olivia’s talents in the classroom. This is her only outlet, until she learns of a young boy’s escape from The Vernon, a ship full of orphaned boys who are learning to become sailors. Olivia is intrigued by the boy and begins to believe that she will one day escape the island.

Click here to visit Cockatoo Island website to learn more about the reform school & the island

Early 1870s to 1888 Girls Reformatory / Sewing Room

I would definitely recommend Escape from Cockatoo Island to readers that are interested in Australian history or are just lovers of adventure because this novel captures both aspects.   

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