Review Blog

Nov 22 2012

Beginner's Guide to Revenge by Marianne Musgrove

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Random House, 2012. ISBN: 9781742750866.
(Age: 10+) Recommended. South Australian author Marianne Musgrove, best known for the junior novels The Worry Tree and Lucy the Lie Detector, has created two engaging and insightful protagonists in Romola and Sebastian. The Beginner's Guide to Revenge is a light hearted, humorous and insightful story which will capture the attention of readers ages 10-13.
Firstly, there are two things you should know about Romola, she has a bombastic and fiery spirit, and she is ferociously proud of her father, a serving soldier. Also, Romola has had a lot of practice in starting new schools, but not always making friends. It just never gets any easier! But this time around Romola has a plan. She will unleash New and Improved Romola and everyone at her school will see just how exciting, funny and pleasant she is. Unfortunately, just when Romola sees her plan working, she is given the opportunity to honour her father on ANZAC Day but a snide and insensitive remark from a 'friend' causes Romola's blood to boil, and she is then confronted with a dilemma; will she allow Old Romola to retaliate or ignore the remark and continue to play her 'new and improved' role.
Sebastian has a conundrum of his own; he is desperate to reunite his family before his mother makes the biggest mistake and marries a 'square bear' named Marshall. It is opportunistic that Romola and Sebastian find an ally in each other, however through their scheming and plotting both discover much more about themselves, and find that the merciless and passionate quest for sweet revenge is not what they hoped for.
It is clear from the outset of the novel that Romola and Sebastian feel they exist at the fringes of their communities. They struggle to 'fit in' at home and in school and so seek methods to retain control over their worlds. Musgrave sensitively underscores the concept of 'revenge' with exploration of being different, handling change, isolation, and bullying. I enjoyed Musgrove's prose, she invites readers into the characters psyche by using carefully constructed inner monologues and representing the intricate process of rationalisation. Readers will identify with Romola and Sebastian's moral dilemma, but also their sense of justice. Ultimately, this is a precious coming of age story about friendship and family, and the bonds which unite these elements to make us the people we are. Readers will feel empathy for the wonderfully flawed Romola and Sebastian, yet also laugh out loud when they are caught up in the sticky mess of revenge!
Marni Trevena

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