When the Ground is Hard

by Malla Nunn
June 2019 – Putnam (US)

A stunning, heartrending tale, set in a Swaziland boarding school, where 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 money, and Adele is forced to share a room with Lottie, the school pariah, who doesn’t pray and defies teachers’ orders.

But as they share a copy of Jane Eyre, Lottie’s gruff exterior and honesty grow on Adele, and Lottie learns to be a little sweeter. Together, they take on bullies and protect each other from the vindictive and prejudiced teachers. Then a boy goes missing on campus and Adele and Lottie must rely on each other to solve the mystery and maybe learn the true meaning of friendship.

WHEN THE GROUND IS HARD is not just the story of Adele and Lottie. It’s also the story of the women and girls — strong, brave, broken, vain, furious — who struggle to find their place in a racially segregated world. This fierce, uplifting novel champions the friendships that give women the light and strength to make it through the hardest of times. The novel proves the truth of the African proverb: “when the ground is hard, the women dance.”

Malla Nunn was born in Swaziland and her family migrated to Australia to escape apartheid. She then graduated with a double degree in English and History and then earned a master of arts in Theater Studies from Villanova University. Faced with a life of chronic under-employment, she dabbled in acting and screenwriting. She wrote and directed three award-winning films including Servant of the Ancestors, which won best documentary awards at film festivals in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Zanzibar and was shown on national television in Australia. She has published several adult books and has received two Edgar Award nominations. She married in a traditional Swazi ceremony. Her bride price was eighteen cows. She now lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

Press & Reviews

“Excellent writing and an evocative setting make this novel a standout.”—Booklist, starred review

“Accidents, lies, thefts…secrets…dead bodies, and illicit rendezvous make for riveting reading in this taut novel.”—School Library Journal

“The gorgeous imagery sets the scene wonderfully … an engrossing narrative that gently but directly explores complex relationships.”—Kirkus Reviews