Witty, poetic, beautifully written: the best Australian books out in July

·6 min read

We Come With This Place by Debra Dank

Memoir, Echo Publishing, $29.99, paperback

Debra Dank’s warm and poetic memoir invites you to another place and time. A Gudanji/Wakaja writer and educator, Dank writes vividly of not just her own life on and off country, but of her family, their ceremonies and stories, spanning back to the beginning. She takes us to a cave in Garranjini in the Northern Territory, for instance, the walls of which were painted by generations of Gudanji women to show future grandkids where the water is. Dank’s grandmother finds that cave while fleeing colonisation; decades later, Dank’s children visit to touch the marks, which they now wear tattooed on their skin.

What would it feel like to have so much history and future tying you to your country? We Come With This Place is an act of generosity, one which should not be taken for granted. – Steph Harmon

Do As I Say by Sarah Steel

True crime, Pan Macmillan, $34.99, paperback

If you are a fan of Steel’s popular podcast Let’s Talk About Sects, you’ll love her first book, which expands on the show’s premise of why people end up in cults. It avoids the well-trodden path of true crime – rehashing the most lurid stories – and is instead structured around the common elements in the testimonies of survivors. The survivors tell Steel about escaping groups like Gloriavale, Zendik Farm, The Welcomed Consensus and Chung Moo Quan. One survivor, Russell, thought the latter was a regular martial arts school, and almost lost both of his arms during his time there.

Steel assembles an interesting and potentially helpful list of red flag behaviours – from manipulative language and isolation, to “love bombing” and sleep deprivation – that are used to coerce and manipulate even the most careful of us. – Sian Cain

The Family Meal Solution by the One Handed Cooks

Cooking, Penguin Australia, $39.99, paperback

The writer, dietician and teacher (Allie Gaunt, Jessica Beaton and Sarah Buckle respectively) behind the One Handed Cooks have not written a recipe book with the Family Meal Solution. While there are plenty of kid-friendly recipes with swaps and suggestions for fussy, vegetarian and allergic eaters within, what they’ve developed is actually a rigorous system of food preparation and pantry management geared towards saving money, reducing waste and sometimes saving time. While the charts, tables and emphasis on forward planning might feel overwhelming to follow in full, even those who embrace chaos will benefit by cherry-picking advice from this book. While I’m psychologically incapable of becoming a meal-prepper, I’ve started implementing some of their hacks – and I don’t even have kids. – Alyx Gorman

Denizen by James McKenzie Watson

Fiction, Viking, $32.99, paperback

There is nothing scarier than a weird kid, and McKenzie Watson – a nurse by day – writes them particularly well. This is his first novel after winning the 2021 Penguin literary prize and just a few pages into Denizen, you can see why he won.

Nine-year-old Parker is prone to heated tantrums and bursts of violence; he has decided early on that “something in my brain was broken”. He is cold and cruel to other children, and his “emotional jousting” with his mother spills over into oppressive mind games. “One day,” she tells him, “you’ll have a child. And when you do, I hope they destroy you like you’ve destroyed me.”

As he grows older, Parker is haunted by his behaviour; when he decides to return to the small NSW town he grew up in for a reunion with friends, it becomes apparent just how haunted he is. The second half is weaker than the remarkable, horror-inflected start, but Denizen is well worth your time. – SC

The All of It: A Bogan Rhapsody by Cadance Bell

Memoir, Penguin, $34.99, paperback

Growing up in Mudgee, NSW, Bell knew from a young age that she was transgender, but didn’t find the language that captured her identity until adulthood. Her laugh-out-loud funny and often moving memoir recalls a lively country town childhood, navigating restrictive gender norms and getting through puberty while surreptitiously trying on her mum’s bras and buying Dolly magazine in Bi-Lo. In her 20s she survived depression and dysphoria, before discovering trans communities online, finding both happiness and love. Bell is witty and candid, and I suspect we’ll read a lot more from her. If you loved Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy, you’ll love this too. – SC

Jesustown by Paul Daley

Fiction, Allen & Unwin, $32.99, paperback

From its opening pages, Jesustown promises the irresistible lure of personal drama: a terrible tragedy, a media scandal and a broken marriage all tied up in one messy knot. But the novel quickly broadens and deepens as the self-loathing central character Patrick Renmark, whose reputation as a dodgy historian precedes him, flees from London to the titular destination, a remote former Indigenous mission in northern Australia. Here he confronts uncomfortable memories of his past and the complex task of sifting through – and writing about – his grandfather’s legacy as the town’s alleged white saviour. Daley’s prodigious nonfiction work in colonial violence and Indigenous dispossession informs the novel as it wrestles with themes of shame, redemption, intergenerational trauma and the question of who gets to write history. It’s a sensitive and searching exploration, beautifully written. – Lucy Clark

What the Fuck is This by Celeste Mountjoy

Graphic novel (nonfiction), Pan Macmillan, $32.99, hardback

Of all the terrible aesthetic trends the last decade has proliferated – pastel pink, marble furnishings, Kinfolk – the line drawing trend might be the worst: abstracted black-and-white scribbles of faces, bodies and flowers subjugating millennial living rooms everywhere to their barren artistic vision. Above the fray rose Celeste Mountjoy, whose viral illustrations as an adolescent under the name @filthyratbag subverted the scrawl of her contemporaries: always smarter, wryer and – yes – filthier.

Now 22, she has released her first book, a sprawling graphic autobiography where nothing is safe: teenage delusions, online dating, crushing anxiety and pulverising grief. Mountjoy casts her deeply sardonic, often self-effacing and always hilarious eye to each misadventure until they blend into a soup of existential fatigue – an accurate depiction of what it’s like to exist on the internet, and more broadly, to exist in a constant state of cataclysm. – Michael Sun

Holy Woman by Louise Omer

Memoir, Scribe, paperback, $29.99

As a teenager in an agnostic household, Omer surprised her family when she dived headfirst into Pentecostalism, joining a church in Adelaide’s suburbs. Taken in by the community, she rose through its ranks to become a preacher and marry a fellow believer. By her early 20s, the marriage was over; disillusioned by what religion had taught her about a woman’s place, Omer went on a pilgrimage to find a feminist religion, travelling to Mexican basilicas, a Swedish branch of Hillsong and Moroccan mosques.

But what could have been an Eat Pray Love-style travelogue is satisfyingly furious (and beautifully written), as Omer realises the error in her premise: monotheistic religions are inherently patriarchal and will never be feminist in practice. The interesting, intelligent women Omer meets interpret scripture to carve out spaces for themselves – but always in the face of great opposition and threat. – SC

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting