Finch by Penny Matthews
Walker Books, 2018, ISBN 9781760650759
(Ages: 9-12) Highly recommended. Themes: Moving House, Country Life, Birds, Individuality. Finch by Penny Matthews is a beautifully written coming of age novel, weaving themes of individuality, self-perception, family hardship, the rigours of country life with an emotional environmental message. Her main character Audrey's journey is poignant, sensitively portrayed and her voice will resonate with readers stepping into their teenage years, filled with uncertainty, questioning friendships and fitting in with their peers.
Moving to a hobby farm in the country fills Audrey with dread, she fears the unknown, a new school, making friends and settling into an unfamiliar environment. Her father and younger sister's excitement and acceptance of the change is at odds with her mother's feelings and her own. Her mother had been the breadwinner in the city working as a legal secretary and isn't excited by their tree change. Chloe calls her older sister 'Nerd Girl'; she's quieter, more interested in studying birds researching their scientific names and features and caring for her pet finches, than all things girly.
Late at night Audrey observes a little dog moving through their property, and no-one else notices him. She asks their old neighbour Mavis about the mysterious dog but she has no knowledge of the small animal. While Chloe loves the new school and quickly makes friends, Audrey is more cautious. Her Year 7 teacher Mr Scardino welcomes her; he shares her passion for natural sciences and humorously encourages her to try fitting in to rural life.
While her school and home life have its ups and downs, Audrey's forays into the surrounding bush brings her joy. She loves looking for and identifying native birds, and this leads her to discover a secret cave and a teenage boy who owns Snowy the dog. She finds a connection with Finch, who loves nature and has made his home here away from the dramas of life with his uncle.
When a heavy downpour floods the creek and cave, Audrey is worried and she reveals her friend's secret home and raises the alarm. The authorities unsuccessfully search for Finch and Snowy. Common threads and conversations with Mavis unravel to reveal secret connections. Through this difficult time, Audrey discovers an inner core of strength and a previously unknown sense of purpose.
Penny Matthews Finch is a rich and rewarding story, filled with hope, tinged with mystery and realistic characters that will resonate with middle school readers. She captures the heart of rural life, the reality of families struggling to find purpose and pulling together when times are tough.