The Grand, Genius Summer of Henry Hoobler by Lisa Shanahan (Allen and Unwin) PB RRP $14.9 ISBN 9781760293017
Reviewed by Daniela Andrews
Henry Hoobler’s mother suggests he make a little room for his worries by acknowledging them. Henry can’t help but wonder, though …‘Couldn’t he be good at making a tiny bit of room for the worry, without giving it the whole house?’
This heartwarming story is about an anxious boy called Henry, aged 8 or 9, whose worries often prevent him from enjoying himself. The upcoming family camping trip at the beach, for instance, terrifies him. Then he makes a friend who shows him what life can be like when you’re open to adventure, and he winds up having a very different summer to the one he expected.
By the end of the summer, Henry will have learnt how to work through some of his niggling anxieties and fears. He’ll realise that oceans don’t always bring tsunamis, that camping trips don’t necessarily include snakebites and that stingrays (barbless ones named Heathcliff, anyway) can be friendly. He’ll learn about self-confidence, especially in the face of older siblings. He’ll learn how to stand up to people who tease him … and forgive them. He will set out on a daring, nightly expedition to rescue a toy pony. He’ll meet a bold, adventurous girl – Cassie – who’ll inadvertently motivate him to find his courage. And he’ll not only learn to ride his bike without training wheels, he will ride it like she does – freely and fearlessly. No wonder it’s a grand, genius summer!
Lisa Shanahan, the award-winning writer of My Big Birkett, has created a touching novel that will appeal to readers aged 7–11 years. Henry’s family members and their camping holiday dynamics are so believable that it might feel as though you’re observing them all from a neighbouring tent! Their alternating feelings of frustration, sadness and support for Henry’s emotions are very realistic. I particularly liked the way Henry’s anxieties crept up on him, rather than being the central focus of every scene.
The book covers themes of family relationships, friendships and anxieties. By the end of the story, armed with a new friend, a powerful bike and a firm sense of adventure, Henry adopts Cassie’s philosophy in life: ‘the best things always happen on the way to somewhere else.’