Sunday 22 October 2023

The First Summer of Callie McGee

The First Summer of Callie McGee by A.L. Tait. Scholastic Australia. PB RRP $15.99. ISBN 9781760260163. Release date 1 August 2023.

Reviewed by Kerry Gittins

In a few short weeks, Callie would be starting at Birchwood High, and if they were all calling her Calliope-Jean from day one, she’d be Calliope-Jean – super nerd – until the end of time. This week at In The Rip would be her one chance to change that. In her wildest dreams she’d be CJ McGee – cool, daring, adventurous. But if Callie was what she could get away with, then Callie would do just fine. Surely if other people knew her by a different name, then she’d be different on the inside as well.

Every summer was the same at In The Rip. They’d been renting the house for as long as she could remember with family friends The Lanes and The Kensingtons. Callie asked why they couldn’t rent a separate house this year, but her mother had laughed and said you don’t mess with tradition. The trouble was ‘tradition’ also meant sharing the summer with Sasha, Cody, and the twins. Sasha who, now that she was fifteen, had the sass and attitude to match, and had switched from being her ally to hardly noticing her. The one person Sasha was noticing was Ned, one of the local surfers. And then there was Mitch Lane and his younger brother Billy. Mitch was the same age as Callie but had made it his life’s mission to find ways to upset her. This year Mitch had brought along his cousin Owen, who seemed to have lots in common with Callie, and seems to have the ability to keep Mitch in check. Together they decide to investigate the series of recent robberies in the quiet coastal village of Sawyer’s Point, but it is when Sasha goes missing after sneaking out, that Callie must live up to her name and use her tenacity, perseverance, and resilience to save Sasha and discover the unexpected identity of the thief.

This coming-of-age story cleverly manages to bridge the gap from child to teenager. The pressures of having an overprotective mum, being an only child and trying to navigate your early teen years are not easy, and many readers will empathise with Callie as she tries to establish her own identity. The clandestine meetings to determine who the thief is will engage even the most reluctant of readers, with a possible ghost sighting and a near encounter with the local teenage gang in the dead of night keeping readers guessing and on the edge of their seats. Annual holidays with relatives and lame dad jokes will resonate with many, as will the feelings of frustration at not being taken seriously.

This is a brilliantly written middle grade novel about resilience, growing up, and navigating the sometimes-confusing changes along the way to becoming who you want to be.

Teaching themes could include families, friendships, family vacations, theft, robbery, gangs, resilience, teenagers, individuality, summer, water safety, coastal towns. 

Highly recommended for ages 11+ years.

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