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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

STRIDE’S SUMMER By Jenni Overend

Allen and Unwin, Crow’s Nest, NSW, 2007. 163 p.

It starts with a funeral - Stride’s father’s - and pouring rain.

Stride’s father Frank, a fisherman, had died at sea, leaving behind his wife and two children, Stride and his older sister Annie, and Ferd, a sulphur-crested cockatoo which Frank had raised from a chick, during his own childhood. Now Ferd becomes Stride’s constant companion and comfort as he coaxes the bird to recover from the loss of his master. Both boy and cockatoo make a new friend, Jess, who helps them both.

But things aren’t going to stay the same forever. What about Stride’s artist mother, who never really wanted to live outside the city? What about Gramps, his grandfather, who is now alone on the farm, with no one to help him? Will Stride lose his beloved home by the sea?

Stride needs to overcome his grief and sense of loss before he can go on with life. A bushfire forces him to learn about himself.

This is a gentle, easy-to-read story with a style reminiscent of Colin Thiele's. The author lives in the mountains, but she gives a convincing picture of life in a coastal town, surrounded by bush. You can feel the storms and the sea spray, smell the eucalyptus and see the pounding surf. Australia's on-going drought is also well-drawn.

The only quibble I have with it is that it reads like a story aimed at primary school children, but it becomes clear, before the end, that Stride is a teenager - to be honest, I’d assumed he was about twelve or thirteen at most. It might have worked better if he had been.

But it’s not a major issue - children don’t mind reading about characters a little older than themselves and this is a book I would give to children in late primary school.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Review: Teeth Marks By Rose Moxham

It starts with a bicycle crash. Nick, the crash victim, ends up on his back in the local hospital, remembering how it all happened, in flashback, and getting used to the strange variety of characters with whom he is sharing a ward.

When two boys from the city go to work on a farm for a few months, all they have in mind is a working holiday and a little money before starting university. Nick’s friend, Robbie, had grown up in the district and knows everyone. He also has a way with girls. Nick hasn’t, but when he meets Robbie’s childhood friend, Jude, who sings rockabilly and has two dogs, he is immediately attracted. The two start a relationship.

But Jude has a problem - one about which everyone in town knows but which nobody tells him. Jude is desperate to find someone who will be true to her and hopes that she can get commitment from Nick before confessing the problem to him.

So, what do you do when someone who might come down with a genetically-inherited medical condition which will leave them helpless and demented wants you to commit yourself to them and you’re only nineteen, far too young to be able to make such a serious decision? At the age of nineteen, thirty, when the illness might begin, seems a lifetime away. It certainly seems that way to Nick, who is a young nineteen and needs some growing up.

In the hospital ward, unable to move, he does some growing up and manages to find sympathy for people he would never have mixed with in his regular life., and, when he leaves, makes sure he does something to help some of them.

Despite the action-packed opening, it took me a while to get into the story. Most children and teenagers simply won’t take trouble over a book if it doesn’t capture their attention immediately. And there’s the question of this book’s intended audience - the main character is a boy, but to me it feels more like a girls’ book, about relationships and coming-of-age.

Still, it’s worth sticking with; in the end, it’s a gentle tale, sad but with a positive ending. And it isn’t the standard “coming-of-age” tale - the reader can wonder what he or she would do if they fell for someone who was going to lose their health and wanted you to look after them, ten years from now. It might just be an interesting topic for class discussion when, as is likely, this book is set on the school English syllabus.

Worth checking out.