Saturday 8 April 2017

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky

Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky by Robert Newton (Penguin Books) PB RRP $17.99 ISBN 9780143309307

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

Robert Newton came to public attention when he won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for his children’s novel When we Were Two. This is his eighth book for children.

The prologue of this latest novel for readers aged 10 to 13 years ends with the words, ‘…on the cold September I turned thirteen and met the Creeper everything changed.’ Someone throws a Jack Russell belonging to Creeper off the top of the commission tower where Lexie lives which puts things into motion. Life is indeed bleak for Lexie whose single mother is a heroin addict and there are bullies in her high rise grey apartment block.

Lexie and her bung-eyed friend Davey befriend the Creeper, an elderly isolated Russian named Sergei Romanov. After cleaning his grotty apartment, they help him establish a garden on the tower top (Mr Romanov’s garden). Lexie’s life dream is to go to Surfers’ Paradise which her deceased father used to talk about. Eventually this happens, but much more does, too.

There are many dramatic and unpredictable moments in this novel with a few laugh-aloud scenes as well. It’s fast-paced and the three main characters are vividly depicted as are some secondary characters such as the Indian grocer Ramesh. Being alone so often, Lexie has created an imaginary friend, Miranda, who is pasted on her fridge and to whom she speaks quite often. This didn’t ring true for this reader. Sometimes, too,  especially at the beginning of the book, there’s a lot of bleakness and unsavouriness: the grey surroundings of the tower, a woman fries a placenta and then eats it, Mr Romanov carries away the dead dog’s mushy remains and Lexie fishes for its collar in the rest of the remains.

Eventually, after an exciting trip towards Surfers’ Paradise with Davey and Mr Romanov with lots of twists and turns, there’s an unexpected change in travel plans. This section involving a police officer didn’t seem feasible to me, and the tail end of the book seemed rushed, but there’s no doubt many young readers will enjoy this mostly well written book.

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