Review – Where Are You, Banana?

Where are you BananaEver had a little buddy you just can’t live without? A certain something or someone that insinuates itself so deeply into your heart that to be without it would be like losing part of yourself? Pets especially imbue a certain sticky charm and no pet wheedles our affection better than the humble dog. This is exactly what, Roddy, the young star of Allen & Unwin’s latest picture book release, Where Are You, Banana? encounters when a pooch named Banana joins his family.

Banana and Roddy share an intimate history together. Banana was Roddy’s first word. He is Roddy’s constant companion, a devoted playmate and supreme guardian. But Banana is not without his shortcomings. One of the slight disadvantages of being so close to something is that it makes letting it go all the more difficult. Banana’s obsessive dependency results in a trail of chewed possessions, one very irate neighbour and the banning of visits to Aunt Celia, whose chooks Banana has an unhealthy predilection for.

The tale tangles when Roddy leaves Banana alone with nothing more than a bone and his own devices one day when they are at Aunt Celia’s. Her new chicks are a short-lived novelty and can’t quite stop Roddy from making mental promises to the dog he feels he has abandoned. He can’t wait to return home and make amends but when the family return, Banana is nowhere to be found.

In spite of everyone’s constant reassurances, Roddy begins to worry, a lot. The house bereft of Banana’s presence, is eerily empty. Roddy is disconsolate. Unable to sleep, he sets out to look for his dog by himself. What follows is a marvellous example of simple ingenuity and heart-warming humanity.

Sofie LagunaWhere Are You, Banana? Is an absorbing little adventure by highly acclaimed, award winning author Sofie Laguna. Laguna’s frank first person narrative weaves a story that is easy to read, easy to like and perfect to share with the whole family.

Craig Smith Craig Smith’s animated watercolour illustrations leave us in no doubt as to how excruciating it can be searching for something you’ve loved and lost. They are just the right mix of whimsy and pull-at-your-heart cute.

If you’ve ever lost a pet, even for a short time, or misplaced a beloved object, then this picture book will strike an emotive chord. Children often feel these kinds of losses in the most dramatic of ways. And indeed, this tale resonates with ‘child-trapped-down-a-well’ drama and appeal. Thankfully, Where Are You, Banana? ends happily, reinforcing the feel-good notion that tenacity and love really do triumph over adversity.

Just right for 3 – 6 year olds.

A lovely addition to this hardcover edition is the QR code inside the book’s cover. Readers can scan the code for a free audio reading, ideal for playtime and bedtime. Or they can click on the Allen & Unwin website.

Craig IllustratingMeet Sofie and watch Craig draw images from this book at the launch for Where Are You, Banana? this Saturday 6th July at Readings St Kilda, Victoria 10.30 am. Check here for details.

 

 

 

YA Review – Steal My Sunshine

The reading audience of YA yarns is ticklish to quantify by age and intangible by definition. Yet its common trait is the desire to be shocked, entertained and moved in the briefest possible time. I no longer have the rush of youth but do suffer the impatience of age so I love that YA reads can take me on a tour of emotions and conflicts, show me succinct snap shots of life, and have me safely home in time for dinner. It’s a bit like being a teenager again. So many issues, duelling emotions, and desperate questions that need answering – like yesterday.

Steal my sunshineSteal My Sunshine, Emily Gale’s first Australian release, is a bit of a circular re-visitation of one’s past. It centres around 15 year old Hannah, a girl with mostly pure intentions who is often at bitter odds with her mother Sarah, and older brother, Sam. She dwells on the fringe of true friendship and romance and feels most kindred to Essie, her eccentric, gin-swilling grandmother.

This story drew me in from the start. How could someone’s sunshine be stolen? It is easy to find fault with Hannah’s acerbic, confused mother, her pusillanimous father, her self-absorbed brother, and her seen-it-all-before best friend. But the key to surviving a crisis is not always about attributing blame. Sometimes it just makes more sense to acknowledge your true-self and accept how it fits in with life.

Hannah’s acknowledgment occurs when her world begins to dissolve during an oppressive Melbourne heatwave. Normality is slipping through her fingers faster than sand from St Kilda beach and she’s at a loss as to how to hang onto it. Enter Essie; the one person Hannah feels holds the answers, whose past can help Hannah make sense of her future. But Essie harbours a shameful secret of her own.

Hannah’s wild, enigmatic misfit of a best friend, Chloe, complicates the mix further. She is as intimate as a bestie should be but is not quite the right fit for the more straight-shooting Hannah. It doesn’t help that Hannah has a burning desire for Evan, Chloe’s older brother.

The disintegration of Hannah’s parents’ marriage and subsequent polarisation between Sam, her mother and herself, forces Hannah to spend more and more time with her grandmother until Essie at last, reveals the shocking truth. And this is where it gets interesting.

Essie takes us back sixty years after an ill-fated attraction leads to her expulsion from her family in the UK to Australia and the subsequent ‘cruel, immoral and shameful’ forced adoption of her baby. It is this theme of abandonment, involuntary confinement, and coercion that Gale portrays so poignantly through Essie’s heart-wrenching, personal recounts.

Though astounded, Hannah eventually finds solace and an understanding of where she belongs within her family and in doing so, reconciles with those she has been at odds with.

Touted as a coming of age novel, Steal My Sunshine summons us to acknowledge the abominable practise of forced adoption in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the realisation that not all broken things can be fixed back to perfect. But as Hannah discovers, the pieces can be saved and remodelled into something else just as special.

Emily GaleGale successfully evokes all the discomfiture of living in St Kilda during a heatwave whilst confronting one’s burning personal issues. Her narrative is gripping yet fluid, and although I would have liked to have seen more emotional development between Hanna and Evan (because I’m a hopeless romantic), it would have been superfluous to the story. The ending seemed a little too convenient after the gritty intrigue created mid-novel but these are minor niggles in a book that offered a satisfying YA mix of confronting pasts, contemporary anguish and reclaiming one’s self. A YA read that shines.

Woolshed Press imprint of Random House Australia May 2013