Ethan's voice by Rachel Carter
Scholastic, 2013. ISBN 9781407135502.
Appropriate for upper primary students, this story is set on an English canal and the central character Ethan lives with his mother and father on a narrow boat. Life is simple for the trio who clearly struggle financially as the father seeks intermittent gardening work and the mother keeps a market stall to help maintain the family.
There is a sense of security, routine and belonging conveyed in the narrative, to the extent that this family is loving and happy despite the hardships. The biggest issue faced in their daily lives is Ethan's inability to speak which has led to taunting and bullying at school and subsequent withdrawal from mainstream education.
Home-schooled on the boat, Ethan is happy roaming and interacting with nature, yet he is clearly a lonely little boy, given that he can only communicate silently with his kindly mother and loving, yet stressed and tense father. When another boat moors nearby, a whole new world opens up for Ethan as Polly, a girl of his age, comes to visit and the pair set out on innocent adventures and exploration of the local environs. Importantly, Polly is a tolerant and undemanding soul who understands Nathan's nature and shows sensitivity regarding the speaking disability.
Narrative development is linked to Nathan's creative writing of a journal, ostensibly for his studies, which reveals the trials and tribulations of a Medieval Page who yearns to become a Knight.
The reason for Nathan's speech impediment is revealed gradually and his capacity to understand and reconcile it provides the framework for the story's conclusion. Within the tale are interesting little references to being blindfolded or not being able to use one's arms in games. This helps to demonstrate that other means can be adopted to fulfill a need, and also that the assistance of others in a trustful relationship is valid.
Ethan's and Polly's mutually beneficial friendship provides companionship, and confiding in each other enables them to cope with life's challenges.