Countdown to yesterday by Shirley Marr

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Author Shirley Marr has written a powerful and unique novel that sensitively deals with a marriage breakdown and the effect that has on only child, eleven-year-old James. When his parents decide to separate and his Mum moves into a small run down flat, James struggles with the changes that take place in his life. Expected to spend time with each parent, he wishes fervently that he could go back to the past to a time when the whole family were happy, connected and living together.

James is an appealing character; reserved and thoughtful, passionate about space, David Bowie’s Major Tom and The Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cakes recipe book. At school, James struggles to fit in and is often on the end of bullying from Roscoe, the son of his mother’s supposed close friend. James deals with this in different ways but mostly by spending time in the office helping the office staff with various things such as the cake competition. The great fundraising cake bake-off is taking place soon and to James’ surprise his mother has entered. This is a new mum, not one that James recognises. His dad has also changed and James struggles to reconcile his ‘now’ parents with how they were before.

Running parallel to James’ family story, is his growing friendship with Yan, a clever and personable girl who sees the world in a completely different way. From a Chinese background with seemingly strict parenting, she also struggles to fit in and has a fascination with the past, in particular with older style computers. Yan spends before school and lunch time in the library and James gradually joins her there. It is here that they concoct a plan to create a time machine where James can choose one of six happy memories he has with his family and go back to the past and stay there permanently. Does this time machine work for James? Or will he discover that what he remembers may not necessarily be what really happened? And that perhaps living in the now may be the time to create new memories?

This is a fabulous read with so much to ponder over, especially regarding memories both happy and not so happy. There are many opportunities for thoughtful shared discussion and understanding the notion that there is often more to a situation than meets the eye.

Themes: Time, Memories, Changes, Family, Friendship, Separation, School, Science Week, Cake making, Cultural Expectations, Loneliness, Connections.

Kathryn Beilby