Fiona Harris and Mike McLeish – The Drop-off

Echo Publishing (an imprint of Bonnier), Australia, 2020

One of the great things about this book is its relatability. Almost everyone who reads this book will find something that will make them say,’Yep, that’s me.’ Who hasn’t, for example, in a period of respite from work taken to cleaning out the bathroom cupboards, finding boxes of long out of date bum creams?

The Drop-off centres on the separate and entangled lives of three people who find one another at the school drop off, united by their non-involvement with the in-groups at school and their desire to remain so.

Barbie speaks to Fiona Harris about The Drop-off

In many respects this is a rollicking tale, the pacing enabled by the use of first person narrative for Lizzy, the Maltese midwife and mother of four with a pretty hectic schedule and a secret from the past that rises up to bite her; third person for Megan, the divorced online business woman, determined to protect her emotional self by avoiding intimacy and engagement; and emails to a mate for the lonely and somewhat dispirited house-husband Sam, whose wife Bridget is mostly away on business, leaving him to run the house and kids, whilst indulging in his talent as a chef and creating delicious baked goods to share .

Everything changes in the lives of these three when the death of the school lollipop man, Henry, leads to Megan’s deeper involvement in the life of the school. I will not spoil the story by delving into too many plot details, but do want to point to some of  the many social issues which this clever book raises for us – the importance of relationships and communication, the centrality of family, the power of social media (good and bad), the long-felt effects of domestic violence on mental health, the importance of community (be it school or wider) for well-being and a sense of connectedness, the capacity of love to conquer all (or most at least).

Arising from a web-series of the same name, this book manages to be both dark and light, though never straying too far into darkness. There is an affectionate humour for the human race and its foibles here, an intimate understanding of the pressures of 21st century family life. There is also a keenly observed view of social interactions, the complexities of relationships, the grey areas of morality and mores.

We do get behind each of these characters, along with the minor players like Dave, the nerdy writer who surprised Megan with the number of friends he had to invite to his launch, and caused her to question who her friends were (if any). Henry the lollipop man also receives affectionate treatment, at first appearing through Megan’s eyes as a boring old chap incessantly talking about the weather, and then emerging as a hero in his own right whose example, along with her rash social media outburst, inspires her to take on the unthinkable, management of the annual school play.

It is interesting that the authors have chosen Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as the vehicle for this transformation – a work that itself is about transformation and redemption – yet another nice layer in this work, which delights us page by page with its insights into the human condition.

This is a highly readable book. As I have said in other places, readability and a sense of simplicity are very hard to achieve in writing and are, in my view, a testament to the ability of these authors. Recommended – and not just for 30 and 40 somethings who may still be at the dropping off kids at school stage of life.