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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 April 2017
4.5 stars

A family lives in near poverty after World War I in a forest clearing with poor soil, many children, and few prospects. On the day a new baby arrives, there is an accident and 4-year-old Tin is buried in the earth, feared dead. When he miraculously finds his way back to the surface, it starts his obsessions with tunnelling, and narrator Harper tells us about the subsequent years of hardship - little food, hunger, growing up. Tin now lives underground permanently, his little brother doesn't know him.

Harper narrates the Flute family's trials over the next few years, and how Tin's world delicately tunnels through them.

It's an unusual story, I couldn't see where it was going for a while, the idea of Tin living underground, but it does mesh with Harper's world through the years. Their lives are hard a lot, though the family feeling is there, the love and loyalty. It is a surprise to discover more about Harper's parents later on, and to see just where the plot goes.

Not for the youngest of primary children, there are some more mature themes and also violence and death in these pages. I would recommend ages 12 and above as its intended audience. It may upset.

It's a hard book to classify, Harper grows from a naive girl of 7 to a teenager, seeing death, siblings fall in love, parental conflict, hardship.

For readers who like historical-set stories, family novels, and books with something a little different.
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on 31 March 2007
I read another book by this author (What The Birds See) and I found the ending too upsetting for me, so I was apprehensive about reading this... but it was one of those books which is so beautifully written that you could read it simply for the taste of the words.

The characters seem real - they are very well crafted - and the plot is involving, too. It reads as an older style book: John Steinbeck, someone compared it to. I don't normally like that sort of thing - I get impatient or feel I can't really relate to it enough - but this was an unexpected jewel. And the ending was unexpected, though completely believable, and hopeful.

Give yourself a good couple of chapters to get into the style and pace of it, and then you will be gripped.

Try it.
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This is my first taste of Sonya Hartnett's writing and her 11th novel (published in 2000) - no mean feat for a then 32 year old. Thursday's Child is set in rural Australia during the Great Depression although the environment is somewhat generic with little to identify it as antipodean apart from a few sundry references to plant life and some place names. However, this is, first and foremost, a novel about people rather than place.

The story is narrated by Harper Flute with the Thursday's Child of the title being her younger brother "Tin James Augustus Barnabas Flute, he was, born on a Thursday and so fated to his wanderings, but we called him Tin for short". Her other siblings are Caffy, her youngest brother and her older brother and sister, Devon and Audrey. Not only are the name choices quirky but so is the fact that Tin becomes a feral child living in a series of subterranean tunnels and that his parents barely bat an eyelid! As Tin merrily excavates his way underground, literally, his parents, meanwhile, stick their heads in metaphorical sand as they blithely go about life, barely eking out a living on their soldier settlement. The father, ex soldier,Court, knows nothing about farming and doesn't seem interested in learning so he hunts rabbits most of the time whilst his family and home degenerate around him. The mother doesn't contribute much either and it seems that Audrey and Harper are the mother figures here with Harper taking the most interest in Tin and his exploits.

This is a novel for Young Adults so I suppose the author can be forgiven for having a certain lack of depth to her characters but I feel it had so much potential as a novel for all ages. Lots of philosophical questions are raised like how small and fragile human beings are when pitted against nature and how, if we're not careful, lethargy can swallow us up just like the earth consumed Tin and others. It's a coming of age story, with moments of brilliance in its deeply lyrical narrative. The overall tone is sadness as the family disintegrates under the weight of grinding poverty. You feel that Harper has grown as a result of all this turmoil but at what cost?

There is an ethereal, mystical quality to Sonya Hartnett's writing which has really impressed me. Part of me wishes the setting could have been more distinct but I guess the indeterminate background serves to highlight the Everyman element of this tale as poverty is universal and doesn't recognise geographical borders! I will most definitely be on the look out for more from this author.
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on 1 December 2002
The caving-in of the muddy banks near Harper Flute's home, burying alive her younger brother, sets the tone for this book. It's a life where the characters appear to be suffocating.

The young narrator watches her impoverished family continue to life in isolation while their neighbours move on. Her strange brother, Tin, burrows tunnels for himself underneath the house, to catastrophic effect. But his path echoes their father's self-imposed refuge; a retreat he beat away from his own Pa's bullying demands.

As the family's troubles worsen, Tin, attempts to leave them behind, literally carving out a new place in his interior world. Far from merely 'digging himself a hole', Tin's route is deliberate, becoming the dynamo at its centre. As a reader we're urged on; we need to know what will become of the Flute family. Despite the arid landscape that serves as its backdrop the prose is lyical and its climax expertly built.

Hartnett says there are those that accuse her work of being too old in its approach or bleak to qualify as children's literature. In her defense she says: "I do not really write for children: I write only for me, and for the few people I hope to please, and I write for the story".

And write the story she does, magnificently.
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on 14 April 2010
Winner of a Guardian Children's Book Award, I picked this up on a bargain book stand. The story is about a family in Australia (it is never stated as Australia I think, but references to red back spiders and the general geography and later the geology made me think it must be so). The narrator is a girl, Harper - but the story is really about Tin, her younger brother, who is always digging and makes a decision to live underground.

Frankly I found it all a little unrealistic. It was not a funny book, so the living underground had to be taken seriously - but the scale of excavation in this story was not really plausible. Neither were the reactions of family and friends to the events of the story.

But the story was also about the father of the family, and his own struggle with action, inaction, bravery and cowardice and some other mixed up feelings about his family.

Interesting enough, but not the best book I have read recently. I will not be too worried about reading other "Guardian Awards" books.
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on 2 June 2013
This was recommended by my Tutor - I am studying Creative Writing - as part of my homework. It is a realistic portrayal of spartan times and the knocks and trials of family life post First World War.

The twist is the brother, Tin, of the narrator who has a talent for digging. This book is strange, harsh, bleak and wonderfully descriptive. I would recommend this book for adult as much as children - I have already put my nephews onto it - it is a beautifully written depiction of family life, realistically posed, accepting of family faults etc and wonderfully observed. The twist becomes just part of the story - it's only when you come to explain it to others and see their frowns do you think that Tin and his digging is odd - that's the magic of the book.
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on 8 June 2013
I recently re-read this book, having first read it when I was 11. Some of the themes are probably too dark for an 11 year old, although the book is written in such a way that everything is told through the eyes of a child, and so nothing is explained in a way that is unsuitable.

The writing in this book flows beautifully, the words seem to roll off the tongue, and once you get a few chapters in you struggle to put the book down!
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on 20 January 2002
"Thursday's Child" by Sonya Hartnett, has exceeded in exporting a stunning debut novel. I like to read some of the finest exponents of children's fiction today, ie writers like Phillip Pullman and David Almond and the writing here is every bit as mesmerising. The narrator is a young girl who lives with her family in a poor, arid landscape, based in the writer's own country of Australia. The story centres around the family's relationships with each other, not least, Tin, a younger brother. Like the old nursery rhyme Tin is a 'Thursday's Child', who has "far to go", pre-destined to roam. But Tin's wanderings take him underneath the earth, into the subterranean tunnels he digs for himself. A poignant story, rich in lyrical prose, it succeeds in drawing out the essence of the main characters and their conflict within themselves and their landscape. There is a dynamo at its core, urging you on so that like Tin, you are forced into a world you have no desire to be released from. You care what will happen to each of them and tears of your own are not very far away. The climax was justly satisying and the whole experience will stay with me for some time.
Melanie Waterfield, Kent, England
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on 4 March 2008
I teach English and use this book to teach children to write well. The prose is superb and the story line captivating right to the end.
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