A Sapphire for September

I wanted to write a decent post about A Sapphire for September but I haven’t been able to find a copy. There are a few available on line – often misleadingly listed as being circa 2008 when the last reprint was actually in 1970.

A Sapphire for September
was a book that had a serious impact on me when I was thirteen. I enjoyed it just as much as the only other work of Hesba Brinmead that is still in print, Pastures of the Blue Crane. Perhaps it wasn’t as complex and was less concerned with issues of racism and identity, but it was rich in detail and was underpinned by the key element of all successful YA literature – the struggle towards independence. I no longer have book on my shevles but I can still recall the cover of the edition I once owned. I haven’t been able to find a version of that image on the internet and there is scant information about the book on the web. And yet, in my mind’s eye, I can still see the main character, Binny.

Binny was sixteen years old, worked in a coffee shop in Sydney (wow! Australian urban setting!) and joined a ‘rock hound’ group in the course of the novel. There was a dash of romance between the teenagers in the group but I remember the book more for the details about lapidary work. The metaphors of adolescence and polishing gemstones resonated and even though I last read it in the early seventies, I can still recall somes scenes from it with clarity. I think one of my key life philosophies grew out of it.

At some point in the novel, Binny placed a handful of raw gemstones in a tumbler and spun them until all the rough edges were removed and the gems began to shine. I’m not sure if Brinsmead made the allusion or if I read it into the text but I always imagined that it was a metaphor for living; that when you allow yourself to experience life, to be thrown into the rough and tumble of being in the world and dealing with other people, you become shinier, more valuable, more your true self.

I don’t know if I want to go back and re-read Sapphire for September, though writing this post makes me feel I must find the book and discover what it was that made it important. In the early 1970s, it spoke so clearly to me, though I’m nervous that it may not live up to my glowing memory of it. I also feel terribly sad that when my own kids were teenagers, I couldn’t find a copy to give to them and it’s still not readily available to contemporary generations of Australian teens. It’s the sort of book that should be read as a classic that revealed a time, a place and a way of experiencing the world. Binny presented me with an idea of what was exciting about entering the adult world – skill, knowledge, gemstones and romance . What more could you want from a YA novel?

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never disappears.”

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