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Sunday, July 18, 2010

SIX IMPOSSIBLE THINGS By Fiona Wood. Sydney: Pan Macmillan, 2010

Dan Cereill (anagram for “Cinderella”, deliberate) has a list of six things he’d like to see, starting with kissing beautiful Estelle, the girl next door (he’s never met her, but it doesn’t hurt to dream). He believes all six are impossible, with good reason.

He has had to absorb a lot of shocks at once. Dad has become bankrupt, come out as gay and left, leaving Dan and his mother to see everything they own other than the clothes on their backs and a few things they’ve smuggled out, taken away. They do have somewhere to live, because Dan’s mother’s Great-Aunt Adelaide has died, leaving them the use of her hone. It’s a huge Victorian house with priceless antiques in it, but they can’t sell anything, because they don’t own it. It all goes to the Historic Homes Trust whenever his mother dies. Money? Left to the National Gallery. Jewellery? Left to a local shopkeeper.

Then there’s his new school. They can’t afford private any longer, so it’s off to the local secondary school, where he has to start all over again. There are the bully-types, but there’s also sensible Lou (perfect for his friend Fred). And Estelle, who doesn’t seem to like him much, and spends all her time with her two friends.

Still, there’s the Year 9 Social to look forward to, if he can bring himself to go, and stop worrying about his mother, who has started listening to Radiohead while working at her not-so-successful wedding cake business (she keeps talking clients out of getting married).

I began by thinking this one reminded me a little of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, but Dan is a lot stronger than Adrian. When things eventually take a turn for the better, it’s because he has been working at it. Things don’t just happen to him: he deals with them, as best he can.

It’s seen from the viewpoint of the boy, but I can imagine a companion volume about Estelle and her two best friends, because they are strong characters in their own right.

The title, while referring to Dan’s list, also takes us right back to Lewis Carroll’s White Queen who used to believe six impossible things before breakfast every morning. That, too, was a story of the absurd things that can happen to a child.

The one nitpick I have with it is that I really, really can’t see a school ordering three kids to do a responsible task like arranging the school dance as a punishment. It happens often enough in teen comedy, but is highly unlikely to happen in the real world. In the state school system in which I work, such events are generally arranged by the Student Representative Council with the help of the staff.

Also, teachers come along to supervise the event. In this novel, there are no teachers present on the night, which enables the school airheads to bring along booze and get everyone drunk. Sorry. It doesn’t happen in the schools of the state system. Perhaps it would be allowed in private schools, but I suspect not. A school can be sued if a branch falls on a student in the yard where no teacher is on yard duty; it’s just too much to believe that the school would allow a bunch of kids to take over the gym for the night with no teachers to supervise. There are adults present – the boy’s neighbour and his DJ girlfriend, who help avert disaster - but that’s by chance.

I can understand why the author did it. She needed a drunk scene for one of the characters and a fight which solves some of the problems. But this is just too much suspension of disbelief to ask, and I suspect teen readers might also find it a bit much to swallow.

Still, it’s a funny, gentle story which should work well on the teen market, probably better with girls than boys, but might also work well as a class text.

Maybe they can discuss the unlikely bits as part of the class discussion of the novel.

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