Review Blog

Nov 20 2018

Unpacking Harper Holt by Di Walker

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Walker Books, 2018. ISBN 9781760650599
(Age: 11+) Recommended. Harper Holt never fully unpacks when her family moves - they move sometimes two or three times a year! An only child in an exclusively nuclear family, Harper follows her father's contract work from city to city. Hugh and Helena have yet to fully comprehend the negative impact upon Harper, leaving old friends behind each time and having to start afresh at a new school.
However, the loss of a new school chum or two, doesn't compare with the sudden loss of her mother in a car accident, shortly after their latest move to Melbourne. As Hugh completely unravels, Harper starts a new diary to vent her despair as she struggles with the loss of Helena - the lynchpin of their little family. Dad and Harper have the support of strangers - both the diligent hospital social worker, Monica, and Leanne, the relocation agent; but especially her new friend Eve and Eve's mother Victoria.
The school bully, Rowena, is no match for Harper's courage - in part her mother's legacy and in part because Harper has hit rock bottom and has no time for the games of teenage girls. Naturally there is a showdown or two but Harper's forthright attitude soon makes her popular and admired. We are angered by Rowena's lack of sympathy and as suspense builds, the author provides solutions even if she cannot bring Helena back.
Di Walker has taken an insular family, very new to the area, before completely untethering them with a devastating loss. She has taught us a great deal about our need for community. Whether extended formally or voluntarily, the kindness of strangers made a difference to this family rocked by sadness and loss of purpose. She also shows that age is not a barrier to shouldering responsibility and that people can process loss very differently. Given the currency of Walker's two main themes, the end papers list both grief and bullying websites for our interest or support.
Deborah Robins

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