Review Blog

Sep 05 2010

Midnight zoo by Sonya Hartnett

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Viking, 2010. ISBN 978 0670074051.
(Ages 12+) Fable, Recommended. Two boys wander through a war ravaged landscape, scavenging for food, sleeping rough. The younger boy, Tomas, carries a most important parcel, his baby sister, Wilma. Looking for a place to sleep for the night, they pull aside a fence and see grass, but a wolf leaps out at them and they run away, knowing that they will not be able to escape. But the wolf does not follow, and looking back they see that they have come across a small zoo, and so stop.
But the animals have voices, and tell the children about what has happened. Both the keeper and his daughter have not returned as they said they would, the animals are starving and have no water. The boys share their meagre food sack with them. In telling their stories the animals expose the cruelty of what has happened to the village. The keeper's daughter led a terrorist group which blew up the train carrying arms and equipment to the soldiers. In so doing the leader wreaked havoc upon the town, despite the keeper taking the lion and the cubs to the leader in reparation. The daughter, Alice, meanwhile, fled to the hills. So now the animals are left caged and alone, next to a bombed out village.
Hartnett's fable illustrates the greed and war mongering nature of men, but out of the squalor comes optimism, as the boys try to find a way for the animals to escape their fate. When almost all hope is gone, Andrej tells them the story of their escape, of their freedom and through the story comes hope. It's as if freedom can be garnered through story in the minds of the children and the animals. The parallel of the boys and the animals strikes at the heart of the novel, as the issues of freedom and the various forms of restrictions imposed upon the main characters are explored. An extraordinary and powerful read, my heart was in my throat on every page, as the children desperately tried to find an answer to the problem of the caged animals as well as their own survival. It will give rise to many discussions about the nature of freedom and the hope engendered in story.
Fran Knight

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