Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Simple Things

The Simple Things by Bill Condon, illustrated by Beth Norling (Allen and Unwin)
Price: AUD $12.99
ISBN: 9781743317242
Reviewed by Jenny Mounfield

Reading age: 8-108

The Simple Things is possibly the simplest, yet most deceptively deep book I have read in a long time, which makes it incredibly difficult to review. Norling’s beautiful cover art and internal illustrations add an extra layer of contrast to the emotional impact of this book. As a whole, I is a magical mix of simplicity and complexity.

It is with the greatest pleasure I introduce Stephen: (Excerpt page 3.)

“Ever since I can remember, at Christmas and on my birthday, Aunty Lola has sent  me her love and ten dollars.  She’s really my great-aunt, but her Christmas and birthday cards always say ‘Love from Aunty Lola’. I’ve never met her before because she lives a long way from my home in the city. To me, the most real thing about her is that ten dollars.” 

Ten-year old Stephen is spending three weeks with his cantankerous Aunt Lola. He is certain it will be the longest and most boring three weeks of his life. But as he is about to discover there is more to life than TV and electronic games. During his stay he learns about life—and death—and everything in between, finds friends where he least expects to, and reminds an old woman how it feels to be alive.

Stephen’s refreshingly frank view of the world is a balm for hearts young and old—as is the banter between him and his aunt: (Excerpt page 45—After Stephen plays a trick on Aunt Lola.)

“Now my bottom lip trembles. I bite down on it but I can’t make it stop.
‘I’m really, really sorry.’
‘Only one really per sentence. I told you about that. Have you forgotten?’
‘Sorry.’
‘And I’ve had quite enough of this sorry business, too.’
‘Sorr—’ I stop myself, just in time.
‘It’s over now.’ Aunty Lola’s voice is still sharp and pointy like a cactus., but not quite as much as before. ‘We all make mistakes.’
‘Even you, Aunty Lola?’
‘Not as many as you.’”

Condon’s gift is that he doesn’t write stories so much as he writes characters who then share their lives with the world.  If he were to announce tomorrow that he is some sort of New Age medium who channels the souls of real people, I would have no trouble believing him.  Stephen, his parents, Aunt Lola, Allie and her pop are all so alive that I feel I’ve met them in person.

The Simple Things is a lesson in life for readers of all ages. I strongly urge parents and teachers buying this title for their kids to take a moment to read it first. I guarantee you’ll be richer for the experience.

Jenny Mounfield is the author of four books and several short stories for young people. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and two of her three grown children.

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