Thursday 30 August 2012

Miss Understood

Miss Understood by James Roy (Woolshed Press – imprint of Random House Australia)
PB RRP $16.95
ISBN 9781864718607
Also available as an ebook
ISBN 9781742748771
Reviewed by Marian McGuinness

Ten-year-old Lizzie Adams has certainly been misunderstood in her short primary school life as she melodramatically explains to the principal of Our Lady of the Sacred Wimple College how she accidently set alight his life-sized cardboard cut-out. Not only has she set off a chain reaction of burning the bike shed and singeing the surrounding grass, she’s also traumatised the nearby third graders. It’s the ‘latest in a very long line of wild events.’ There’s one result and one repercussion. Lizzie is expelled and to her horror, will be homeschooled by her mum.

Forever an optimist, Lizzie’s sassy attitude shines as she sees the positive side of being homeschooled. ‘It’d be a ‘stroll in the park, but with a late start.’

Lizzie’s misunderstandings continue at home. The dynamics of the novel open up as we are brought into the lives of Mum, Dad, their neighbour, Miss Huntley and the blow-ins from the adjoining HomeFest world of display homes.

Award-winning author James Roy makes you laugh out loud with his witty, visual prose. In the early morning hours, when Lizzie realises she’s forgotten to put the garbage bin out, Roy takes you into the scene as Lizzie is ‘charging down the driveway with the bin getting the speed wobbles.’ When she confides in Miss Huntley that her dad will kill her for forgetting, Miss Huntley wryly remarks, ‘I seriously doubt that. We haven’t had a murder in this street for three or four years.’

Roy’s layering of humour and seriousness is deftly written as Lizzie realises that she is not the only one to be misunderstood. Her dad has changed. He is grumpier than usual. He’s getting more forgetful and tends to spend a lot of time sleeping. Lizzie confides in the reader, that when your dad shouts ‘it felt extra yuck.’

Just when you think things are settling down for Lizzie, the next chapter races you off in another direction as Roy interweaves the parallel plots of those in Lizzie’s life. 

As Lizzie’s world broadens it’s finally revealed that her dad is suffering from depression. After he’s been to the doctor he gives Lizzie a brochure. ‘Mood swings, having no energy, feeling like everything was hopeless …Yes … a lot of them sounded like my dad,’ thinks Lizzie.  Roy deals with this issue in a gentle and sensitive way that just might speak to some of his readers who find themselves in a similar situation to Lizzie. And if that’s the case, as a separate entry at the end of the book there are a few helplines for those in need.

With six CBCA Notable Books and a litany of major awards to his name, James Roy has created another winner with Miss Understood. There’s a lovely sense of a moving-on cycle as all the characters grow within themselves and with each other. Will Lizzie be given another chance at Our Lady of the Sacred Wimple College? I’m sure, after the principal has seen how much Lizzie Adams has grown up. 

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