They are also best friends. It doesn't matter that Rosie is white and Nona is Aboriginal: their family connections tie them together for life.
The girls are inseparable, until Nona moves away at the age of nine. By the time she returns, they're in Year 10 and things have changed. Rosie prefers to hang out in the nearby mining town, where she goes to school with the glamorous Selena and her gorgeous older brother, Nick.
When a political announcement highlights divisions between the Aboriginal community and the mining town, Rosie is put in a difficult position: will she be forced to choose between her first love and her oldest friend?
Clare Atkins has worked as a scriptwriter for many successful television series including All Saints, Home and Away, Winners and Losers and Wonderland. Nona and Me is her first book, which she wrote while living in Arnhem Land.
Nona and Me
Author: Clare Atkins
Question: What inspired the story of Nona and Me?
Clare Atkins: I moved from Sydney to the remote Aboriginal community of Yirrkala in 2012, after my husband got a job teaching there. I was struck by the differences between the Aboriginal community and the nearby mining town of Nhulunbuy, and wondered what it would be like for a teenager moving between those two worlds: home and school; community and town; Aboriginal families and mining families.
Question: What research did you do prior to writing Nona and Me?
Clare Atkins: I interviewed a lot of people who had lived in Yirrkala or Nhulunbuy a long time. Some had raised children there, or grown up there themselves, or worked in the community for many years. I was also lucky enough to work with a Yolngu (Aboriginal from north-east Arnhem Land) teacher, who advised me and made sure the story was culturally accurate.
Question: Are the characters based on anyone you know?
Clare Atkins: They are not based on anyone in particular, but they are inspired by the many people I talked to. Nona and Rosie's stories are very true to life; they could easily be real teenagers living in the community today.
Question: There are several issues raised in this book. Was this deliberate or did the story evolve this way?
Clare Atkins: It was definitely deliberate. I don't think you can write about life in an Aboriginal community without bringing up those issues – if you did, it wouldn't be realistic. Through the novel I try to transport readers to another world, to let them vicariously experience what it is like living in an Aboriginal community with all its ups and downs, and highs and lows.
Question: How much of your inspiration comes from real life and real people?
Clare Atkins: Most of my inspiration comes from real life. I love working with real people and their experiences and weaving them into a fictional story. The process adds meaning and connection for me, and rich detail to the story: there are many fantastic things that happen in real life that you wouldn't believe if you just made them up.
Question: What do you hope readers take away from Nona and Me?
Clare Atkins: I hope that the characters live on in readers' minds, and the next time they read or hear about Aboriginal issues they will think of Nona and know that it is much more complex than negative representations and stereotypes. I also hope the book prompts discussion about the issues portrayed; the best books get people talking!
Question: What's next for you?
Clare Atkins: I have a couple of book ideas that are slowly taking shape. We recently moved to Darwin so there's a good chance one of them will be set there. I also work as a freelance scriptwriter for television, most recently for Channel 10's Wonderland, so there is a good chance I'll be doing more scriptwriting too.
Interview by Brooke Hunter