A powerful, captivating story about Alice, who is reaching out to express herself through her beautiful-broken words, and Manny who is running to escape his past. When they meet they find the tender beginnings of love and healing.
Glenda Millard is a highly respected author who writes for children of all ages. Her novel A Small Free Kiss in the Dark was the Winner of the 2009 Queensland Premier's Award for young adults, Honour Book in the 2010 CBCA awards for older readers, shortlisted for the 2010 NSW Premier's Literary Awards, and included on the Honour List for the 2012 International Board of Books for Young People. Books from her popular Kingdom of Silk series have also received individual awards. Her novel, The Novice, was chosen for a White Raven Award in 2006. Glenda has also written many picture books, including The Duck and the Darklings, illustrated by Stephen Michael King, which was Winner of the 2016 WA Premier's Literary Awards for children's books and shortlisted in the 2015 CBCA awards.
I am always in awe of those multi-talented writers who can turn their hand to such a wide range of text types. From picture books to novels for younger readers to such as this for young adults, Glenda Millard is one of those amazing talents.
Alice Nightingale is fifteen but twelve, trapped in an acquired brain injury following a violent and traumatising attack which tore her apart along with her family. Unable to cope with the rigours of ordinary life such as school she is protected and loved by her brother and her ailing grandmother. Isolated and lonely, Alice expresses her perfect thoughts through her broken speech poetry and her creativity by making unique and beautiful fishing flies.
Manny James is a refugee from a dark and turbulent warzone and is desperately trying to put ugly and terrible memories to rest. He lives with a kind older couple who are wise with their understanding of differences and staunch in their support of a sensitive young man. He is intrigued when, on one of his night time runs, he sees Alice on her rooftop – hair streaming, arms wide – and then when he finds one of her poems he is driven to know her. Alice’s first sight of Manny similarly mesmerises her.
“carved from ebony
polished with beeswax
a saint from the book of kells
a dream with
neat tight french knots
i wanted to
read them like Braille
run my fingers along
the lumpy scar that joined
shoulder to elbow
i wanted to
know why it was there
what had shaped this boy?”
The story of Alice and Manny is haunting, touching and powerful. They both have extraordinary obstacles to overcome not the least of which is the ignorant small town bigotry which seems to abound in so many places. Told in two parts from these young people, the text is lyrical and full of beauty as Alice and Manny overcome the wrecks of their childhood lives and cleave to each other for strength. This is a novel that will move you and I highly recommend it for discerning readers from around 13 years up.
Sue Warren, QLD
Please don't be put off by the appearance of the apparently rambling sentences and capital-less first page: this is a profoundly beautiful novel that unfolds through the protagonists' own, very different, voices. We are hooked, from the second sentence, into a quest to find out what happened to Alice. “they sewed me up when i was twelve, mended my head with fishbone stitches, tucked my frayed edges in... do it quick, stem the flow, stop life leaking out of alice, that's all they wanted. so gram said.” As we read on, Alice's meandering prose evolves into moving, evocative poetry and we uncover the devastating occurrence that led to her current condition.
And, while we know about her love for Manny in the first line, we don't meet him until chapter nine. His voice is a complete contrast to the sensory stream of consciousness in which Alice shares her feelings: the sentences are short, the words are simple and the style is reminiscent of spoken rather than written words. We are led on a second journey of discovery as clues to Manny's background allow us join the dots and we acknowledge that his history is every bit as traumatic as hers. Thus the story of a simple, loving relationship unfolds - one that is far more sensitively expressed than recent YA teenage romances that have skyrocketed their characters into stars via film and book packages.
While both protagonists now live in unconventional, yet supportive, environments, they are forced to confront hostile groups of people who threaten their relationship and their lives. They move inexorably towards a dramatic, suspenseful climax that Alice resolves with an act of courage inspired by words she remembered: if we let cowards stop us living the way we want to, we let them win.' This is an engaging and captivating book that should be part of any English course from grade 9 onwards. It could be included in many concept based units.
Glenda Millard is one of my favourite Australian authors: if this book interests you, you should also read her earlier novel A Small Free Kiss in the Dark that sheds new light on the experiences of Australian teenagers during the troubling times of war.
Pamela Powell, Lead teacher-Literacy, Rose Bay High School, TAS