Red Day by Sandy Fussell

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Walker Books, ISBN: 9781760651886. 240pp.
Highly recommended. Red Day is a coming of age story that takes the reader into the world of Charlie, a young girl who is in year 7 in a school in Cowra, NSW. Charlie interacts with the world as a likeable, well balanced person of her age, with all the usual struggles and fun. However, Charlie has an additional aspect to her. She is a person with synaesthesia. This interesting condition, little known but not wholly uncommon, results in the joining of normally unconnected senses where stimulation of one sense can cause involuntary reaction in another sense. Amongst other capacities, Charlie sees colours in days and attitudes in numbers. People, to Charlie, are surrounded by auras of different colours. Charlie's enhanced sensitivities, which when really tested, result in physical pain and near collapse, hold a mirror to the past and drive the actions of Kenichi (the Japanese student who is being hosted by Charlie and her mother) and herself in their efforts to right wrong. For Charlie there is an additional motivation for solving the mystery and that is to avoid another Red Day which is associated with terrible pain and grief.
The other aspect to this book that is not particularly well known to most Australians is the fact that Cowra was a POW camp and scene of the largest and bloodiest prison escape during World War 2. The story unfolds through Charlie's eyes. Her mother has insisted upon hosting a Japanese student (Kenichi) and his arrival triggers the subsequent unfolding of intertwining cross cultural family histories. Charlie and Kenichi work together to pierce together the pain of the past and make it right for the future of their families. The story is unrelentingly gripping and haunting too. The pain of the Japanese POWs and the mystery surrounding both families unfolds within the settings of such places as the Cowra Japanese War Cemetery, Garden and Museum.
Readers of this wonderful piece of historical fiction, will learn of an important and sobering part of Australian history and also of an interesting neurological condition whilst enjoying the development of strong cross cultural friendship through the collaboration of Kenichi and Charlie. Hope for the future (an informed future) springs from this story. Teacher's notes are available.
Wendy Jeffrey