Review Blog

Oct 28 2008

Sprite Downberry by Nette Hilton

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Angus and Robertson, 2008. ISBN 978073228548 7
(Age 11-14) Highly recommended. Sprite's refuge is her family; her dad, the artist; mum, the fun loving woman who starts things but never finishes them; and Mozz her little brother. Nits stray into her hair, and her school friends reject her, saying she is dirty. But she still has her family. When her family begins to unravel, and her father stays away one night, Sprite goes to school the next day, hopeful that he will return that evening. But her class mates talk of seeing her mother at the clinic, and call her a druggie, which sets the precarious Sprite off, and she hits one of her tormenters. Returning home she finds her mother has not left her bed and is too full of sorrow and remorse to think clearly.

This is a fearless book, showing a family in disarray, the young girl left to look after the mother and her brother. She holds onto the belief that her father will return, all the while piecing together the bits of information she has learnt about her mother; the sweet tobacco smell when she smokes, the fact that she has gone to a clinic, the overheard argument between her parents when her father told her to get rid of it before the police found out. She begins to realise that her mother has an addiction, and this addiction has permeated all their lives.

One of the many highlights of this book is the lack of recrimination. Hilton presents the story as any story of any child who may be in trouble. This is a family in crisis, with a child called on to make adult decisions about herself and her family. Children reading it may be shocked at the behaviour of the mother and possibly the father, but it will open a window into the lives of some of their classmates, and for those for whom this story has resonance, what a marvel for them to see that they are not alone and that there can be a resolution.

And most appreciatively, it is in the third person, making it not just another angsty sub-teenage novel told in the first person, but a rounded, informative story about a family from a benevolent and omniscient point of view.
Fran Knight

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