By Alice Pung Black Inc.

When my dad dropped us off at the front gate, the first things I saw were the rose garden spreading out on either side of the main driveway and the enormous sign in iron cursive letters spelling out LAURINDA. No “Ladies College” after it, of course; the name was meant to speak for itself.

Laurinda is an exclusive school for girls. At its secret core is the Cabinet, a trio of girls who wield power over their classmates – and some of their teachers.

Entering this world of wealth and secrets is Lucy Lam, a scholarship girl with sharp eyes and a shaky sense of self. As she watches the Cabinet at work, and is courted by them, Lucy finds herself in a battle for her identity and integrity.

Funny, feisty and moving, Laurinda explores Lucy’s struggle to stay true to herself as she finds her way in a new world of privilege and opportunity.

Alice Pung

Alice Pung is a writer, editor, teacher and lawyer based in Melbourne. Alice’s books include Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter. She is the editor of the anthology Growing Up Asian in Australia, and her work has appeared in the Monthly, Good Weekend, the Age, The Best Australian Stories and Meanjin. Alice’s debut YA novel, Laurinda, was longlisted for the 2015 Stella Prize. Alice was a Stella Prize judge in 2016.

Judges' report

Set in the 1990s, before social media and mobile phones dominated adolescent social life, Alice Pung’s novel tells the story of Lucy Lam, a working-class child from a Chinese family who wins a scholarship to attend the ‘exclusive’ private girls’ school Laurinda. Here she encounters a group of girls known as The Cabinet: they are the school’s shiny trophies, and there’s also a suggestion of the political meaning of ‘cabinet’, for these girls have a lot of power in their small society.

The story is told in letters from Lucy to her old friend Linh, but Pung gives this tradition a clever and surprising twist. This novel is much more than just a story of high school; it explores the workings of class conflict and racial difference in a hothouse atmosphere and it’s an incisive critique of the limitations of a privileged upbringing. Formally categorised as ‘Young Adult’, this novel is an equally compelling read for adults, skilfully written and full of insight and ideas.

Further reading


‘There’s a strong sense that though ostensibly fiction, the novel is informed by real experiences, and the verisimilitude adds weight to the drama within and beyond the classroom. Pung continues to impress with her nuanced storytelling; Laurinda will surely resonate with anyone who remembers the cliquey, hierarchical nature of the playground.’ – Thuy On, Sydney Morning Herald

‘With Laurinda, Alice Pung has joined other Australian writers who are writing smart, funny YA fiction full of complex and engaging characters.’ – Madeleine Crofts, The Lifted Brow

‘This novel was like a time machine that shot me straight back to my own years in middle secondary school. On one level Laurinda is about a young girl’s struggle for identity and belonging, but it quickly deepens into a candid and powerful exploration of family, culture and class.’ – Athina Clarke, Readings