Our race for reconciliation by Anita Heiss
Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781760276119
(Age: 13+) Recommended. Aboriginal themes, Cathy Freeman, Athletics, Reconciliation. The story of one family and its journey to Sydney for the People's Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000 is the basis for this evocative tale reflecting the solidarity shown on that day and on Sorry Days since, as all Australians recognise the past and look forward to a future together.
Mel's family lives ten hours drive from Sydney at Ipswich, but makes the journey along with their gran and grandpa who are part of the Stolen Generations, to join the march. We hear of Mel at school where the teacher explains why people are calling for an apology, we see the family in the car when mum talks about how her mother was treated, the family singing along with Archie Roach's CD, and we see the letters written by the class to their heroes, in Mel's case, Cathy Freeman, with outstanding results.
Mel's family has Aboriginal heritage so readers will see a family just like their own, with its dreams and aspirations, everyday concerns and problems, showcasing a background which does reflect some differences. The explanation mum makes of her mother's childhood will fill in gaps for many of our readers. Sorry Day and Reconciliation are given a face with the emphasis on Mel's family and how things in the past have affected them.
In the lead up to the Sydney Olympic Games, Mel is very excited about Cathy Freeman's event, and we see Cathy from Mel's perspective, a hero above all others.
Heiss uses the class as a platform for debate, offering negative views of Aboriginal people, Sorry Day and Stolen Generations to be mouthed by one of their classmates. George's opinions give the teacher and Mel and her brother as well as others in the class, the opportunity to repudiate the negative things said, so informing the reader.
The book ends with the Olympic Games and Freeman's stunning victory with all of Australia proud of her efforts. Even George concedes he may have been wrong and when Mel's brother extends the hand of friendship, he accepts.
Trying to instill information about a particular topic is always fraught in historical novels, and although the story is slow at the start, the sensitive handling of the family and the impact of the treatment of their forebears, shines through. This book will inform younger readers and be useful as a read a loud in classes grappling with Reconciliation.