Thursday, 7 March 2019

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel


The Secret of the Youngest Rebel by Jackie French (Harper Collins) RRP $14.99 (PB) ISBN 9781460754801

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

Set in Sydney in 1804, this junior fiction novel is about Frog, a young orphan surviving on the streets of Parramatta, despite a set of difficult circumstances. Not knowing who either parent is, Frog sleeps at Ma Grimsby’s pie shop in return for some pick-pocketing (or ‘dambling’). While stealing an apple pie, Frog meets the Irishman Phillip Cunningham, who is kind. Frog then follows Phillip who is the leader of the ‘Castle Hill Rebellion’.

The shanty town where Frog lives is not painted in an appealing light. The currency is rum. Most people are either convicts or ex-convicts, with the scars to prove it. Frog is constantly hungry, unwashed and always on guard, but at the same time not complaining, just getting by in the best way possible.

When Frog meets Phillip, another kind of life presents itself. Freedom becomes an ideal and Frog joins up with the soldiers, willing to fight. Unfortunately, because this is based on true history, the ‘Republic of New Ireland’ never comes about. But Frog does find another kind of hope.

The best thing about this story is the twist, which I didn’t guess at all, so I’m not going to give it away. Also, very effective are descriptions of early colonial Sydney – the smell of wood smoke and the taste of greasy salt mutton. Aptly depicted on the front cover, the character of Frog is the other best thing about the story. From the first introduction, any reader will be on Frog’s side.

Author’s notes at the back include a glossary (with words like ‘gammon’ and ‘Shank’s pony’). Also included are notes about the Castle Hill Rebellion, Phillip Cunningham and the transportation of Irish people to Australia.

The Secret of the Youngest Rebel is a thoroughly enjoyable and educational story for primary school children.



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