SALT RIVER ROAD Molly Schmidt (Fremantle Press, $32.99) The dedication which prefaces Salt River Road is twofold: Fremantle-based journalist and author Molly Schmidt offers her respects to the Goreng and Menang Noongar people — the traditional custodians of the parts of WA’s Great Southern where her story is set — and dedicates the book to her parents, including her late father, who she describes as “the heart of this story”. This reflects the two central strands of Schmidt’s debut novel, which won the Hungerford Award for an unpublished manuscript in 2022 and draws on her own upbringing in Albany and her experiences of losing a parent at a young age. Indeed, this is first and foremost a story about grief, capturing the Tetley family — including five siblings ranging from Year One to young adulthood, plus dad Eddie — in their often agonised (and affectively rendered) struggle to cope following the death of mum Elena from cancer. Set in the 1970s mainly on and around the farm the Tetleys work near Cranbrook, the novel focuses on teenage siblings Rose and Frank, who are near enough in age to almost be twins but whose closeness has been ruptured by their loss, which has seen Frank retreat from his family and friends into a self-destructive spiral of drugs, alcohol and self-harm. Salt River Road is also a novel born of Schmidt’s postgraduate research at Curtin University which, as she writes in her author’s note, “explored the question: ‘How can non-Aboriginal writers include Noongar characters in their fiction in a manner that avoids misrepresentation, cultural appropriation, stereotyping and tokenism?’” This led her to consult extensively with Goreng and Menang Noongar Elders, which informed the inclusion of two Noongar characters, Elders Patsy and Herbert, whose history with the Tetley family, and with Eddie in particular, gradually emerges over the course of the narrative. The thematic and conceptual ambition of Schmidt’s novel is also reflected in its form, which interweaves prose — whose second-person narration shifts between Rose and Frank but is consistently addressed to Elena — with short sections of poetry that allow an immediate and vivid access to the characters’ inner lives. The result is a confident, compelling and heartfelt novel about grief, family, coming of age, connection and racism that’s written with sensitivity and care. Molly Schmidt will be a guest at the Perth Festival Writers Weekend, at the State Library of WA on February 23-25. See perthfestival.com.au. BEE MILES Rose Ellis (Allen & Unwin, $34.99) “It is a strange thing to be known for being homeless,” writes Rose Ellis. Yet the subject of this empathetic biography “is perhaps best known for the way she lived in public places”. Born into a wealthy family, Bee Miles was a well-known Sydney figure who lived “a very public life in towns and cities across the country — sleeping on their front steps . . . breaking their rules and living, as she liked to say, ‘recklessly’.” As Ellis writes, her life was also “punctuated by arrests, courtroom dramas, imprisonment and committals”: “by the time of her death in 1973 she had been arrested more than 300 times, had been in prisons and lockups in most parts of the country and had been a patient in at least seven psychiatric hospitals.” MILLIE MAK THE MAKER Alice Pung & Sher Rill Ng (HarperCollins, $22.99) Author Alice Pung — known for her acclaimed books for adults and children including Laurinda, Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter — returns with this middle-grade novel aimed at ages eight and up. The first book in a new series in collaboration with illustrator Sher Rill Ng, it centres on a nine-year-old girl named Millie Mak, who is struggling to find her place in the world after moving house and starting at a new school. Then she discovers a talent for fixing and repurposing items, allowing her to connect with the people around her, including her Scottish Granny and her Chinese Ahma. The book includes two stories starring Millie, along with instructions on how to make some of her projects, among them a skirt made from tea towels.