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When the Ground Is Hard

4.16  ·  Rating details ·  1,101 ratings  ·  209 reviews

In this stunning and heartrending tale set in a Swaziland boarding school, two girls of different castes bond over a shared copy of Jane Eyre.

Adele Joubert loves being one of the popular girls at Keziah Christian Academy. She knows the upcoming semester at school is going to be great with her best friend Delia at her side. Then Delia dumps her for a new girl with more mone

Hardcover, 257 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
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Average rating 4.16  · 
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Jul 08, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 3500-2022
I read this because I already know of the author from her Detective Emmanuel Cooper series (I wish she would write more of them). They of course are adult books. When the Ground Is Hard is young adult but still very readable by those of us who are not young any more.

The author has a tremendous ability for describing her settings and this book took me straight back to the short time I spent in Swaziland. I could see that busy bus stop in the early morning and hear the hubbub of chattering people
Adele Joubert lived with her mother and brother Rian, with their father visiting occasionally, while they telephoned him every Thursday evening. The time to return to Keziah Christian Academy was fast approaching and when her mother and brother took her to the bus shelter, all she could think of was joining Delia in the seat she would have saved on the bus. But Delia betrayed Adele, dumping her for another girl; Adele found a vacant seat next to Lottie Diamond, a girl she didn’t care for.

Adele a
When the Ground is Hard is a YA novel set in Swaziland in the 1960s, (now known as eSwatini), mainly at the Keziah Christian Academy, a boarding school for mixed-raced children. The author was born in Swaziland before moving to Australia in the 1970s and in fact attended the school herself along with many of her family members.

Eswatini is one of the smallest countries in Africa and is landlocked by South Africa and Mozambique to the north. Swaziland was a British high commission territory from
The Artisan Geek
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
My review for the Penguin Teen Blog Tour is up on my channel!! :D review

Really enjoyed reading this book!! My review will be up on the 30th! :)

I got a copy from Penguin Teen and I am SO happy!! :D

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Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Adele is popular in the Keziah Christian Academy in Swaziland, where your standing is a combination of the color of your skin and your economic status. Adele is lucky: she is mixed race with a white father , who pays full fees. She is able to afford new clothes and treats; however, she arrives late to the bus to return for the school year, and is humiliated to sit in the back with the lower caste (poor and/or black natives.) A new Portuguese girl has taken her place with the popular girls (the " ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
3.5 stars

This is a cute story in a somewhat bleak setting, of two teenage girls from different backgrounds attending boarding school and becoming friends. It’s definitely aimed at kids in that there’s not a lot of nuance and the text tends to point things out rather than letting readers draw their own conclusions, but I still mostly enjoyed it.

The book is set in 1960s Swaziland under apartheid, and the narrator, Adele, is the daughter of a white South African father and mixed-race mother, atten
Author Malla Nunn beautifully describes the many hierarchies in place at Adele’s school, amongst the teachers, the children attending the school, and the wider country. Within the school, the rich girls hold sway over their less wealthy peers, while actively being nasty to the poor kids. While many of the teachers regularly humiliate the poorer children.
Adele was part of the rich girls crowd, until she's assigned a new roommate, Lottie, a much poorer girl. Adele is deeply aware of all the ways s
Gin Jenny (Reading the End)
Adele Joubert is a good girl. Her white father pays her school fees at Keziah Christian Academy, and Adele is permitted in the ranks of the wealthiest girls at the school — until one year she isn’t. Suddenly she has lost her place among the popular clique, and she has to share a room with ferocious Lottie Diamond, who is unequivocally at the bottom of the school’s pecking order. But in living with Lottie, Adele slowly begins to realize the ways that power and injustice function in her world — an ...more
Jul 22, 2021 rated it really liked it
Swaziland is a land locked country which practiced apartheid at one point of time. At that point, the whole country and education system and even the laws that governed the land were divided to be different for the whites, mixed race people and the native swazis. Of course everything favored the whites. Each different group of people had their own social circle, schools, traditions and rules. And mind you, the crossover between the groups was not very common and if a crossover did happen, it was ...more
Prince William Public Libraries
Although this coming of age story is set in 1965 Swaziland, Adele’s life at a boarding school for mixed-race students will resonate with anyone who has ever been dealt a hand by the “Mean Girl” clique at school. This novel deals with class and race discrimination, envy and compassion, and is based on stories told by her mother and aunts about being educated in a boarding school for ‘mixed race’ students.

Author Nunn writes from personal experience, as she attended the same boarding school as a y
Sep 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, rare, true.

I'm always looking for ownvoices books written by authors with perspectives from outside the United States. I'm a public Librarian, and I particularly look for middle-school (grades 6-8) books, as historically I've been invited to present booktalks to virtually all of the thousands of middle school students in my local school district. It's also important that the books have great covers. This book was an easy one to pick for that line-up.

Nunn tells a story apparently based
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book! I think a lot of it had to do with the narrator on the audiobook. Such a fantastic performance.

I loved the setting, I could just picture the dry, red lands of Swaziland with the boarding school of mixed-race children in the middle of the dusty lands with the river, and forbidden banana trees. The author did a fantastic job showing versus telling.

Adele and Lottie were such likable, real MCs. I loved how frank Adele spoke about her relationship with her father and what
This is a book about racism and class struggles, set to a background of a boarding school in Swaziland in the 1960s. The MC is a little innocent in her assessment of others and their standing, because she's a rule follower. She's learnt the rules and how the system works, and filed everyone she interacts with into the neat little boxes she's been taught. Until Lottie, who teaches her to observe and think for herself.
I have no idea why this was such a compelling read. Maybe because all these cla
Sep 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is something special.
Clare Snow
"That's why the women dance. They dance to bring joy. They dance to soften the ground beneath their feet. They dance to bring change." ...more
Feb 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
Written by Australian author Malla Nunn, this young adult work of fiction set in Africa, illuminates the prejudices of colour and race, the hardships faced by teenagers at boarding school and the contrasts between the poor and the rich.
This was an emotional read, and it was really nice to find a YA novel that is based in Africa.
Aug 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this story. Finding your true self out of a bad or upsetting situation is always inspiring. The characters were well written and the narrator was perfect.
Trigger warnings: racism, apartheid, (view spoiler)

3.5 stars.

I picked this book up purely because it's set in Swaziland (now Eswatini) and I've never read anything set there before. And for the most part, I enjoyed it. But it also would have been good to lead with the fact that it's set in the 1960s under apartheid, because for the majority of the book I just assumed everyone was just racist and bigoted.

I enjoyed this, but I did feel like it took a litt
Oct 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Ooh. Yes. This was delightful. High four stars, maybe to be revised up at some point.

Swaziland, perhaps the 1960s. The year isn't named, but Adele is a student while Swaziland is a British protectorate, and Swaziland gained independence in 1968. Her school is one of careful striations of power: the students are all mixed race, and if they've learned anything, it's that race matters. Race, and money. As Adele understands it, being mixed race makes one superior to being fully black, and being ligh
Mar 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
For the full review and a short analysis of the gender gap and some initiatives or projects that are working to improve the situation of the women in Eswatini visit:

The 60’s in the British Protectorate of Swaziland: In Keziah Christian Academy, a missionary boarding school for mixed-race students, Adele, a “nice” and well-behaved young woman, is downgraded from the “pretties’” room, a room where only the richest girls sleep. The school is ruled by money..
Liz Filleul
Jul 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This YA novel set in a boarding-school for mixed-race students in Swaziland in the 1960s is my favourite read of 2019 so far. Like many other YA boarding-school stories it features a heroine who learns to be brave, her daring and loyal best friend, and a group of mean girls. Unlike every other YA boarding-school story I've read, it highlights the various prejudices and hardships faced by mixed-race girls and women, as well as people with disabilities, in Africa at that time. Heartbreaking and co ...more
Beautiful, lyrical.
Jun 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
For this review and many others, please visit -

I honestly didn’t know what to expect going into this book. All I knew was that two girls came together through a copy of a book. Does a book lover need to know much else? What ended up happening was I stumbled into a story of a young girl realizing that she has dreams and worth, and a friendship that changed their lives.

Adele is popular in school. She is mixed race with a white father, so that automatically
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
*Thank you to Penguin for sending me a Netgalley Arc to review!

This is a story about Adele, a mixed-race girl growing up in the 1960's in Swaziland. She attends a boarding school with other mixed-race children, where she is popular and enjoys the benefits of her family's economic status. However, this year, things change when she is cast out of the popular group and forced to roommate with Lottie, a troublemaker from a poor family. While Adele is not happy with this development at first, this bo
Jul 18, 2022 rated it really liked it

I love reading other cultures and their history. When the Ground is Hard did an excellent job in bringing me into the life of a 16 year old in Swaziland. Set in 1960, we follow two girls with different social backgrounds and how they got to know one another during their time in boarding school.

There was tremendous character development with a beautiful and detailed story that talked about racism, being born in the wrong social class, and the concept of friendship. I found it hard to put down
Jun 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Adele is a good girl, she does what she is told and follows the rules. Adele is the daughter of a white South African father and mixed-race mother, attending a religious boarding school , Keziah Christian Academy, for mixed-race children. Her story takes place in 1960’s Swaziland during Apartheid. When Adele loses her place among the popular clique and finds herself rooming with Lottie (a girl low on the social ladder) her eyes are opened to the blatant inequality among the students at school an ...more
Sue Hedin
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: young-adult
I am a fan of Malla Nunn's South African apartheid detective books and saw that she had written a young adult novel set in Swaziland. Glad I picked this one up! It was an excellent book on growing up in Swaziland as a mixed race young girl during apartheid. You get a great feel for what happened to these kids who had a sketchy place in native communities and no place in white ones. By law they were all sent to mixed race boarding schools, if school could be afforded or paid for by 'god fearing' ...more
Sandra The Old Woman in a Van
I LOVED this novel! I felt like I received an inside tour of 1960’s Swaziland (now Eswatini). It’s why I read. Finding gems like this is why I read.

There aren’t enough fantastic coming of age stories featuring girls of color. When the Ground is Hard rises to the top of fantastic in this genre. The heroine and her best friend are smart, complex, real, and it’s impossible not to love them. Nunn’s writing took me right into the heart of Swaziland in all it’s complexity, yet also told a universal ta
Oct 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
In a Swaziland mixed-race boarding school, being judged and ranked based on skin color and economic status are "how things are". When Adele is replaced by a richer girl in the top clique, she is forced to room with Lottie, who doesn't get the rules. It soon becomes clear that Lottie does know how things are, but unlike the "good girls" she refuses to accept them. Adele starts questioning why things are the way they are, and if being sweet like honey is the best way forward in a world where wealt ...more
I loved this book, set in a Christian boarding school for "mixed race" children in the British protectorate of 1965 Swaziland. Economic barriers, racial barriers, social barriers - we hide behind and are limited by artificial walls. And the narrator was Bahni Turpin - I would listen to her read the phone book! ...more
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Malla Nunn grew up in Swaziland before moving with her parents to Perth in the 1970s. She attended university in WA and then in the US. In New York, she worked on film sets, wrote her first screenplay and met her American husband to be, before returning to Australia, where she began writing and directing short films and corporate videos. Fade to White, Sweetbreeze and Servant of the Ancestors have ...more

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