Thursday 16 August 2012

Ned Kelly’s Secret

Ned Kelly's Secret Ned Kelly's Secret by Sophie Masson (Scholastic Press)
PB RRP $16.99
ISBN 978-1-74283-032-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Hugo Mars has come to Australia with his father chasing stories of the gold rush until the coach they are travelling in is held up by the notorious outlaw Harry Power. Father and son then turn their attention to the stories of the area’s infamous bushrangers. The Victorian countryside is vastly different from their hometown of Paris, but it provides the adventure that Hugo craves when he befriends Maggie Kelly and her brother Ned. Hugo is swiftly caught up in the world of bushrangers.

The author has created a fantastic character in Hugo Mars. He is keen to help his father’s research and is encouraged by Mr Mars to make up his own mind about situations and people rather than follow others. He also longs to strike out on his own and does so occasionally, yet is reasonably cautious, not foolhardy.

Masson manages to make the reader see the unfolding drama through the eyes and perspective of Hugo. The scene where he meets Harry Power and is torn between admiration and dislike is particularly powerful in this respect.

The writing is evocative. In the wonderfully tense bail-up scene, Hugo describes the kookaburra’s sound as the “long drawn-out cackle of a witch mocking our pitiful plight.” The bush, small country towns and the city of Melbourne in 1875 are well drawn and full of life.

Hugo Mars and his father are fictional, but most of the other characters are based on real people from history. Ned Kelly and his family, Harry Power, Jules Verne (Mr Mars’ friend in Paris), even the smaller characters such as the squatter Robert MacBean, the policemen and the Beechworth lawyer Mr Zincke have historical origins.

It is well researched and holds the excitement, suspense and drama of a great bushranging tale. Ned Kelly is not painted as evil, nor particularly good, and the openness of right and wrong works really well in this telling of Ned’s boyhood years.

This book would suit boys or girls from the age of twelve, and I think boys in particular will connect with the brave and adventurous Hugo Mars.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable, exciting and informative story about an era of Australian history.

Sophie Masson has written many books for children including three in the My Australian Story Series. The Hunt for Ned Kelly (My Australian Story) won the Patricia Wrightson Prize for children’s fiction in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, 2011.

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