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Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy

 Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy

Pearl’s family is a group of three: her mother, her granny, and Pearl. But Pearl’s grandmother is suffering from late-stage Alzheimer’s, and Pearl’s mother is struggling to cope. Pearl knows that something’s wrong, but she’s not sure what to do: things are changing, and she’s no longer sure where she fits in. At school, the other kids are busy being kids, but Pearl feels lost and alone.

My class is made up
Of groups:
The footy boys’ group
The ballet girls’ group

I am in a group of one

But while the unstructured busy-ness of the playground leaves Pearl feeling left out, the structure of the classroom, a place she used to love, boxes her in and stifles her: it has become her prison.

Miss Bruff wants poems that rhyme.
Rhyme is okay, sometimes.
But my poems don’t rhyme.
And neither do I.

With the kids in her class focused on trivial things that are meaningless to Pearl given what she’s going through at home, Pearl feels as though there’s no one she can talk to. Even the library has nothing for her:

Where is the book
About a girl
Whose poems don’t rhyme
And whose Granny is fading?

Granny no longer remembers Pearl, but Pearl remembers the things that Granny has taught her, and her love of stories and poems:

A poem comes
When it is needed
And writes itself
In the way it needs
To get its point across

she told Pearl one, long ago. And it’s this advice that Pearl uses as she writes down her deepest thoughts. Poetry is both catharsis for her and a way of honouring and remembering her Granny.

Pearl Verses the World is achingly beautiful in its honesty and its simplicity. The free form verse is a perfect medium for highlighting Pearl’s feeling of disconnectedness and loss; it’s also a limitless medium by which she can help make sense of what’s happening at home and around her in the school yard. The delicate black-and-white watercolour illustrations by Heather Potter are sublimely suited to the book as well, and add an extra degree of poignancy and innocence.

But both the text and the illustrations have moments enough of wryness and gentle humour to prevent this from ever crossing over into melodrama, and though you may well find yourself reaching for the tissues, you may also crack a bittersweet smile or two, particularly when Pearl realises that

Perhaps I was never
In a group of one.

 Rating: star Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphystar Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphystar Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphystar Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphyhalfstar Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy (superb)

With thanks to Walker Australia for the review copy

Support Read in a Single Sitting by purchasing Pearl Verses the World from

Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA | Booktopia | The Nile

The Pearl Verses the World book trailer:

Other books by Sally Murphy:

 Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy Book Review: Pearl Verses the World by Sally Murphy


  1. Thanks for the wonderful review! This sounds like a book I definitely want to read! Not only do I love books in free verse but my grandfather suffered from Allzheimer’s so I think I’ll be able to relate really well to both Pearl and the story.

    • Stephanie /

      My pleasure. :) It’s a beautiful story, and so heart-wrenchingly honest. My grandfather suffers from dementia as well, so I too identified with Pearl and her mother.

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