The Exiles

Written by Christina Baker Kline
Review by Rebecca Cochran

In London, 1840, Evangeline, a governess to a wealthy family, finds herself in dire straits. Having been led astray by the couple’s older son, Evangeline finds herself with child, and worse, accused of theft and attempted murder. When she is sentenced to fourteen years in an Australian prison camp, it seems as though there is no hope left. But, aboard the ship to Australia, Evangeline meets Hazel and Dr. Dunne, two kindred spirits. Hazel is just sixteen and has had a rough life. She quickly makes friends with Dr. Dunne and is able to help with his many patients. But life aboard a prison ship is not easy, and many shocking events quickly turn this story upside down.

Meanwhile, in Australia, Aboriginal native Mathinna is adopted by a rich English couple as a novelty. Lady Jane Franklin is fascinated with “training a wild” and finds it fun to dress Mathinna up in proper clothes. Mathinna misses the wilderness and the people she has left behind. She finds solace in her pet possum and dreams of escape. Like Evangeline and Hazel, Mathinna is a prisoner with little hope for a bright future.

This is a moving, descriptive, and engaging story. Kline captures the essence of women’s prison life remarkably well, painting vivid scenes of the harsh and cruel world. With several shocking twists and turns, the story speeds along at a rapid pace. Mathinna’s story, however, seems a bit out of place. Kline never provides her with a conclusion, leaving readers wondering about her fate. Nonetheless, The Exiles haunts readers long after the last page with its grim picture of prison life in Australia, and the fates of those women, if they were lucky enough to make it back alive.