Fly on the wall by Remy Lai

cover image

Walker Books 2020. ISBN: 9781760652654.
(Age: 8+) Recommended. Twelve year old Henry Khoo lives in Perth with his mother, grandmother (Popo), older sister Jie and dog, Maomi. His Dad works in Singapore and the family usually spends the school break there. When the family decide to stay in Australia for the break Henry decides he will secretly travel to his Dad's on his own. This is remarkable as not only has he never even caught a taxi on his own but Henry's mother, sister and grandma hover over everything he does. He is shy and quiet with a best friend, Pheebs, but she has become distant since an incident at her birthday party. As a distraction Henry secretly starts an online web comic at school called Fly on the Wall posting gossip, and hurtful observations about other students. It gets a lot of attention and he keeps posting cartoons even though he is terrified his secret will be revealed and he will be suspended. To boost his confidence he imagines himself as a character in a Wuxia drama his grandmother is so fond of. The disciple is faced with a number of trials where he follows the guidance of a wise mentor to defeat his enemies, face personal challenges and emerge having learned kindness and wisdom. As he embarks on his secret journey Henry faces many challenges, shows kindness and develops some insight, most noticeable in his sketches as his arch enemy, Tim Aditya, transforms from mouse to frog and finally a boy very like Henry. Told in the form of Henry's secret journal with sketches, there are engaging diagrams and comics scattered through the text and there is a second style that he learned at school which distinguishes his Fly on the Wall posts. A nice touch, when his notebook is missing, shows entries written on serviettes. He finds that it might be better to have a helicopter family rather than an indifferent one but the relationship he is seeking with his father still seems a bit elusive.
An attractive book for a difficult age group, funny, lightly told with no heavy moralising. Recommended for a wide range of readers from eight years, especially those from a non-English speaking background. Teacher's notes are available.
Themes: Friendship, Family, Adventure, Humour, Multicultural fiction, Illustrated novel.
Sue Speck