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Carnegie-shortlisted period story that brings dark subjects to a young audience
on 15 May 2015
In a remote outback telegraph station, Comity and her father find their lives turned upside down when Comity's mother suddenly dies. Herbert Pinny sends messages down the wire all over Australia and takes refuge in his work, relying on Comity to inform the family of their new situation. Comity can't bear to tell them the truth. This, along with the new assistant Quartz Hogg will lead to dark and dangerous deeds, as Quartz takes against Comity's aboriginal friend Fred.
This doesn't pull punches with its young readers - death, racism, violence, intolerance, abuse, grief all play a role in Comity's story. She's a strong character, who misses her mother terribly but who tries to keep herself and her father going, tries to do the right thing. Her lies are understandable, even when they escalate.
I found Herbert PInny slightly unrealistic - his treatment of his daughter after losing his wife seems excessively callous, thought Hogg made a beautifully named villain. His story though I would have liked to end differently.
The story takes unexpected turns, changes rapidly from a story of grief, to one of lying to one of violence and its consequences and at the end, another twist brings all these elements together in a moral of tolerance and bravery.
McCaughrean has crafter an intelligent period story that has been recognised with its addition to the Carnegie shortlist.
This is one for ages 9-12, and for those interested in Australia / aboriginal stories.