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  • Writer's pictureJulianne Negri

May 2020 Reading Roundup

So life in lockdown was distracting and busy and added to that I had a very unsettled brain not helped my my compulsion to watch disaster unfold. It was hard to find a book to hook me but these two middle grade books delivered in spades.

I am a huge Rebecca Stead fan. She writes the 12/13 year old stories like no other. This one differed as it was for a younger readership with the main character Bea only 10 years old. The book is about Bea navigating her parents break up, her dad coming out as gay and planning to get married which will mean she will have a much longed for sister . She manages this life through wonderful adults around her, including a gorgeous therapist, and a reliance on a list given to her by her parents when they broke up; a list that is carved in stone.

The book has a big cast of characters and a deceptively complex structure that moves in time but done so well it is effortlessly readable. The descriptions of events, past and present, in the voice of Bea, give great insight into her character. While this could have erred on the saccharine side it manages to have enough acid and flavour to save it from sentimentality while remaining warm and bighearted. It is no mean feat to pull of a book so complex with such brevity but that is where Stead shows off her expertise.

Writer, agent, editor, LoveOzYA champion, blogger, reviewer and middle grade expert. These are just some of Danielle Binks’ achievements. But with her debut middle grade novel, The Year the Maps Changed, she has announced herself as an important voice in Australian Children’s literature with this cracker of a book!

This is such an accomplished debut demonstrating expert handling of plot, multiple characters and complex themes - all through the effortless voice of our protagonist, 12 year old Fred (short for Winifred). This book is going to be a brilliant read for upper primary and year 7 and 8 because it not only reaches into Australia’s refugee history but also because it challenges ideas about developing your moral compass and acting for change. It is a world populated with wonderful characters including the adults – something that not all middle grade novels manage to achieve - adding so much to the complex family dynamic that Fred travels through over the year this story is set. The sense of place, Sorrento 1999, is visceral and the time period deftly conjured through just the right amount of delightful detail.

The true story of Operation Safe Haven in 1999 where Australia housed Albanian and Kosovar refugees, underpins the year in Fred’s life where she has to face personal family upheavals, grief old and new, balance changing friendships and make choices that will inform her identity. The geology metaphors perfectly scaffolds Fred’s growing world view and personal development. This is coming of age narrative with a huge heart and told with bold authenticity that is an absolute gem of a read.

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