Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Big River Little Fish

Big River Little Fish by Belinda Jeffrey (UQP)
PB RRP $19.95
ISBN 9780702238444
Reviewed by Jo Burnell

Big River Little Fish fills me with foreboding from the first line. Something is terribly wrong. Knowledge of the coming record 1956 floods does not help. My feelings were in a tangle as the story panned out. A cruel teacher leaves her scars, but the loss of a kind one hurts even more.

Big River Little Fish is Tom’s story. He feels everything in his world is backwards. He came out backwards at birth on edge of the Murray River and lost of his mother in the same moment. Things have continued that way ever since. Letters and words don’t cooperate when he tries to read or write them and school is like torture. Tom’s ability to listen to cars idling and tell what ails them does not impress his step mother.  

Tom’s best friend calls him MOT, a name as backwards as he feels, but all is not as it seems. When Tom’s biological father appears after years of silent absence, even what was backwards turns upside down and inside out.

Can the world be more mixed up than this? Even though Tom feels he will burst from the tension, all of this drama is nothing compared to what will happen when the Big Murray River bursts its banks.

Full of action, yet seething with the undercurrent of subtext, Big River Little Fish will have you riveted to the page. I couldn’t stand the suspense and broke a cardinal rule. I flicked to the end to see what was coming. Don’t bother. It doesn’t help. It’s better to hang in there and read every detail, so that this complex tale can come out right in the end.
  
Jo Burnell is passionate about hooking reluctant and struggling readers into the world of books. Her current project for teenagers looks at Juveniles in the Old Melbourne Gaol in the 1850s. Facts, Fictional Play Scripts and Faction recreate gaol life in early Melbourne in short easy read chapters. 

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