2021 - Shortlisted
The Coconut Children is a remarkably accomplished debut novel by a distinct and urgent new voice in Australian literature. Set in the south-western Sydney suburb of Cabramatta in the late 1990s, Vivian Pham’s novel weaves together a coming-of-age story from the point of view of two unforgettable characters: Sonny, the novel’s charismatic heroine, and Vince, who has just been released from juvenile detention and is trying to find his place in the community and the broken family he is returning to.
Pham has daunting themes to work with: the intergenerational effects of displacement and familial disconnection, addiction, violence, and poverty. She brilliantly braids together moments of aching pathos with wry, teenage humour. The Coconut Children is the kind of book that attests to the necessity of stories about ‘multiculturalism’ while simultaneously subverting common assumptions about what that word might mean in the lives of young people who, despite growing up traumatised and impoverished, refuse to be broken.