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Thanks to NetGalley and Sourcebooks Fire for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Release Date: Available Now

276 Pages

Synopsis: I have three months left to call Katie my older sister. Then the gap will close and I will pass her I will get older. But Katie will always be fifteen, eleven months and twenty-one days old.

Hannah’s world is in pieces and she doesn’t need the school counsellor to tell her she has deep-seated psychological issues. With a seriously depressed mum, an injured dad and a dead sister, who wouldn’t have problems?

Hannah should feel terrible but for the first time in ages, she feels a glimmer of hope and isn’t afraid anymore. Is it because the elusive Josh is taking an interest in her? Or does it run deeper than that?

In a family torn apart by grief and guilt, one girl’s struggle to come to terms with years of torment shows just how long old wounds can take to heal.

Australian author Claire Zorn’s Protected has been nominated for and won several awards, and after reading it, it’s easy to see why. With the many issues it brings up it’s a difficult read at times, especially as it’s so believable, but take my word for it, this is a book worth picking up.

The story begins in the present day, with the one year anniversary of the death of Hannah’s sister, Katie, approaching. The family is in crisis, with the mother being severely depressed and the father being under investigation as he was driving the girls at the the time of the accident. Complicating things further is that he has amnesia due to his injuries. Hannah also claims to have amnesia, and is now facing a meeting with investigators. 

As the story unfolds, you see that fifteen-year-old Hannah’s trauma started long before the accident. She has been a victim of a vicious and frankly, depraved campaign of bullying since her first year in high school. Despite a caring teacher and school counsellor, the adults here are oblivious to what’s been happening until after the accident. Hannah’s well-meaning parents discover how much their youngest daughter is suffering, but with Katie’s untimely death, the bullying is forgotten. If there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that now, Hannah’s tormentors have somewhat grown a conscience and leave her alone. 

Hannah is such a relatable character, and my heart ached for her. Her grief is palpable and as the story goes back and forth between the present day and the past events which lead up to the fateful day, it’s obvious that this young girl is a lot stronger than she appears. Her first person narrative is full of raw emotion and I honestly found myself stunned at times at the way she was able to push through the trauma and grief and guilt. 

The reader also sees the difficult relationship that existed between the sisters. Katie knew about the the bullying, but as the popular older sister, not only didn’t want to get involved, but actually blamed Hannah. The quintessential party girl, Katie was completely self-absorbed and viewed Hannah with a mixture of scorn and bitterness. I found myself wondering if she had lived, if their relationship could have been saved once they reached adulthood. My one criticism is that I thought Katie was a little too one dimensional. Sibling relationships can be complicated, but there was nothing likable about Katie whatsoever, and I wish she had been fleshed out a little more.

Hannah’s mother and father are both loving parents, but since the accident, her mother has completely withdrawn from the world and only shows emotion when she’s bitterly blaming her husband for Katie’s death. There is a family support system in place of sorts, with grandparents trying to help, but I found it hard to believe that no one brought up the idea of professional counseling for her. The father and Hannah have a closer relationship and I appreciated how even facing the possibility of legal repercussions, he urged her to tell the truth. 

The two people who ultimately help Hannah get past what has happened though is Anne, the quirky school counsellor and Josh, a fellow classmate. Both of them determinedly set out on bringing Hannah out of her shell and showing her what a wonderful person she is, and that she did not ask for or deserve anything that’s happened to her. I enjoyed the burgeoning relationship between Josh and Hannah. He made me laugh out loud more than once, and he’s exactly what Hannah needs as he patiently coaxes her back into the world, The ending is bittersweet but filled with hope as you can see that Hannah is going to be alright. 

Claire Zorn’s writing is incredibly vivid, from her descriptions of the Blue Mountains of Australia, to the bullying and the consequences that result from it. Hannah is such a sympathetic character that I think she’s going to stay with me for a long time. Protected is a perfect book for classrooms and book discussion groups and I highly recommend it. It’s the first book I’ve read by this author, but it certainly won’t be the last.