on Aug. 9, 2015 :
This is a different style of read from the run of the mill YA, but all the better for that, I think. With the ANZAC Centenary this year which is very significant for Australians, it is a very timely topic to be addressing in such an approachable and appealing way. It is the little stories that always pack the most punch when well told, as this one is.
This is indeed a book with lots of heart, about growing up, friendship, and learning how to deal with life, love and loss. While bubbling with humour and the day to day wackiness of chaotic family life, it also pulses with echoes of tragedy and loss, both old and recent. And it has a wonderful feeling of place, too, very recognisable to fellow Australians!
Young Leo, despite being dead for so long, is larger than life, humorous, daring and cheeky, but there is aching sadness also in the lonely lostness of the forgotten young soldier, and in his fear that he will just fade completely away. The sadness of the grieving relatives and lovers left behind after WWI (or any war for that matter) is delicately evoked also and provides a lot of pauses for thought. The young soldier’s questions are oddly similar to the ones that Anna, Jacqui and Dylan, who rouse him, are also asking themselves. The present tension between Anna’s pregnant sister and the rest of the family – and with her boyfriend – is worked through in the background in a touching way and ties in gently with Leo’s story. Anna, Dylan and Jacqui also come to terms with difficulties in their lives during the story. All the threads are finely dealt with and woven into the story as it moves along.
The young soldier’s story was deeply moving and sensitively told. There is a lovely wistful charm that weaves through the revelation of the early lives of Anna’s relatives who she has only known as crusty old people. Amidst the ridiculous, rambunctious and earthy day to day family life that comes to life on the pages, there is a delicacy of feeling and many beautifully rendered scenes of growing understanding and unflagging affection despite difficulties and misunderstandings. The two threads weave in and out, making a well put together story that can be read on many levels.
This is a very heartfelt coming of age tale, and reminds one of the truth that the experience of growing up seems to remain constant – the questions and doubts remain the same, only the milieu in which the different generations of teens have to find their answers changes.
(review of free book)