Monday 28 March 2011

The Golden Day

The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781742374710
Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Set in Sydney in the late 1960s, The Golden Day is about a class at a private girl's school whose teacher goes missing on an excursion. Reminiscent of Picnic at Hanging Rock, this is written for a younger audience of late primary to early secondary age. The teacher's disappearance and the girls' silence creates an aftermath of drama and mystery. This lasts until the very last page — and beyond.

The writing is characteristically poetic and original. An underlying humour is present in phrases like 'Every play lunch Georgina bought a pineapple doughnut at the tuckshop, which she ate in great gulps like a dog'. Miss Renshaw, the teacher, is described as 'tall, noble and strong. Her hair was red and springy. She was like a lion.' Icara, is described as 'far-flung' by her teacher, who then writes it on the board in yellow chalk.

The characters are around ten years old, but the story illustrates an awareness of issues beyond their years. Cubby sees chilling words written on an empty blackboard 'Not now, not ever' as the eleven girls sit in their classroom waiting for their teacher to return. She is also aware of something between Icara's father, the judge, and 'fit to be loved' Amanda, although it is not put in so many words.

The most striking aspect of this book is the mood. The first chapter begins with a class discussion of the hanging of Ronald Ryan and finishes with the phrase 'Wait for me' foreshadowing forthcoming events. The last part of the book jumps forward to 1975 as four of the girls have finished their last school exam. Just when it seems there will be an explanation of what really happened there is a twist, leaving the reader with an uneasy feeling. Is anything really as it seems?

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