Friday 19 July 2019

Maddie in the Middle

Maddie in the Middle by Julia Lawrinson, (Fremantle Press), 2019. Pb. 226pp.  RRP $16.99 Also available as an eMobi, ePdf, ePub.

Reviewed by Pauline Hosking

Maddie Lee is beginning her last year at primary school. Her oldest and best friend Katy has been voted school captain (called a head counsellor in Queensland) and Maddie is feeling left behind. When the new girl Samara appears, Maddie works hard to become her friend. She discovers that Samara’s family have secrets and very little money. Although she knows stealing is wrong, Maddie joins Samara in shoplifting. 

The girls steal luxury items which are sold to raise cash. If the girls are caught, Maddie agrees to say she was acting alone. Samara fears that if she gets into trouble, and her family situation is discovered, she and her siblings will end up in care.

The girls are caught. Bravely (or foolishly) Maddie stays true to her friend and does not mention Samara’s name. Maddie is charged with theft and appears in the Children’s Court. Samara and Katy arrive during Maddie’s second court appearance. Samara explains her role in the thefts and says Maddie was ‘doing a bad thing for a good reason.’ The magistrate is sympathetic. Maddie in the Middle ends with the three girls becoming best friends.

I found this a difficult book to review. The publicity mentions the genre is middle readers ages 10-14. I think this where my problem lies. 10-14 is top of middle grade overlapping the bottom of YA. It’s a pity the novel wasn’t more firmly positioned in one camp. At present it’s an uncomfortable mix of serious subjects and happily-ever-after fantasy - like the frankly unbelievable way Samara and Katy are allowed to behave in court. The title, too, is very junior fiction.

Young readers may find the main characters difficult to relate to. Their behaviour and motivation are often confusing. At first Samara is presented as a Machiavellian type who manipulates Maddie. In the blink of an eye she becomes nice and responsible.
Many of the minor characters are more successful, especially Maddie’s father and Samara’s younger brother and sister. The short pieces Maddie writes for school are imaginative and deeply emotional. I think they would work even better in a grittier YA version of this story.

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