Lothian, an imprint of Hachette, Australia, 2020
Between the beautiful cover artwork of Allison Colpoys lies an equally beautifully told story of the adolescent search for identity, family and connection.
Jane Godwin tackles many issues of social significance in this book including the difficult question of social media and its potentially dire effects on its users. Trolling, shaming, the sharing of inappropriate images, exclusion and manipulation all come under scrutiny.
There is also the deep questioning of what constitutes family and what true friendship entails. A myriad of accompanying themes and subjects whirl about in this story – IVF, adoption, family separation, blended families, neglect, responsibility, irresponsibility, honesty.
Our two main protagonists, Lissa and Reed, are just teenaged, but they face the world with individuality and courage, both searching for the truth of their family circumstances. Reed has run away from home in search of his birth mother – he suspects it is Fiona Freeman, Lissa’s Mum. He brings with him a tiny baby named Mercy whose beginnings seem particularly grim and for whom he takes responsibility as her uncle.
We feel for both Reed and Lissa as they grapple with the responsibilities and practicalities of caring for a baby, reliant as they are on Mr Google for their information and often finding out what matters too late. There is no lack of good will here, merely lack of life experience and fear of both finding out and not finding out what they want to know.
With 25 books under her belt, many awards and honours including shortlisting for her picture book Tilly for the 2020 CBC Book of the Year Award and for her novel As Happy as Here for the 2020 YABBA Awards and much experience in working with students in schools, it is no wonder that Jane Godwin so accurately and sympathetically speaks in the voice of the adolescent.
She also, it seems to me, speaks eloquently for the adolescent, looking without blame upon their seemingly erratic behaviour. We understand the process of growing up is not easy – we have all been there after all.
Jane Godwin is undeniably one of our most eminent Australian writers for young readers. Her capacity to capture voice is one of the most appealing aspects of her work, be it for main characters or supporting cast. Meticulous care is taken with conversation, spoken and written and via social media platforms.
The author’s gentle hand is clear and comforting for the reader and her painting of the scene often poetic. We also see this in her capacity to vary pace from the frantic to the quiet and introspective, mirrored in the title and in the scene attached to it, in which Reed, Lissa and Troy visit Hidden Valley in the Wombat State Forest in search of hidden histories, ‘beautiful ruins’, a scene so simple and so touching that we re-read it several times before we can allow ourselves to move on.
Jane Godwin writes for readers from late primary school to early secondary years. She has also written for me.
Find out more about Jane Godwin at: http://www.janegodwin.com.au/
Thanks to Hachette for providing me with a review copy.