Review Blog

Sep 19 2012

Miss Understood by James Roy

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Woolshed Press, 2012. ISBN 9781864718607.
(Ages: 10 +) Recommended. Family and humour. Poor Lizzie. No one understands her, she sometimes speaks in riddles, often takes people literally, and tries to help where help is not needed. On one such day, one in a long line of such days, she ends up setting fire to the headmaster's portrait and so is asked to leave her school, Our Lady of the Sacred Wimple. In this winning first person narrative story, Lizzie becomes home schooled by her mother, and through her eyes we see that things at home are not as she would like them to be. Dad is a food writer and some of his reviews have almost ended in litigation, and Lizzie has found him in tears in his study. The arguments are becoming more frequent and things are happening to upset the household.
Their house is one in a cul-de-sac, where display homes are often open for people to look through. As theirs was once one, they often have people peering through their windows or just walking in, increasing Dad's temper outbursts. The empty house next door intrigues Lizzie as she has discovered that sometimes there is a light left on and she hears noises. There are pizza boxes in their bin, and the older woman across the road asks odd questions. Lizzie is working at the Helping Hand Centre with Miss Huntley and so hears tales of people helping others through her community service, being done to increase the possibility of returning to her school.
All of these combine to make a sharply observed inviting story about a young girl noticing things in her environment, but unsure what they all mean. The neat parallel of the model homes with the example of these less than model families, is a strong theme in this wonderful story as Elizabeth comes to realise that her father is depressed, and that the man living next door has a similar condition following his marriage break down. Of course, she tries to help both men, and the pamphlet given to her father, she passes on to the man next door. But in the end, the greatest help she gives her father is being herself.
It is always good to see a novel where families are represented with all their faults, and trying hard to retain its equilibrium. James Roy has a knack of presenting families truthfully, and could easily be compared with those books from the pen of Simon French, Jacqueline Wilson and others.
Fran Knight

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