Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
David Fickling Books, 2010.
(Ages 11+) Highly recommended. They say good things come in small packages and this is certainly one of them. David Fickling Books publish distinctive compact hardbacks that are easily identifiable and I snapped up Tall Story on the strength of the publisher. I'm so glad I did.
Bernardo lives with his aunt and uncle in the Philippines, a culture immersed in superstition and occult practices. He challenges the school bully and finds himself cursed by her witch mother. Like his namesake Bernardo Carpio, the mythical giant who protects their town from the risk of earthquakes, Bernardo finds himself growing ever taller. Suddenly his is Bernardo Carpio incarnate and if he leaves, his home town will no longer be protected.
This is a serious problem because in the UK Bernardo's parents and younger sister, Andi, are fighting for his right to come and live with them. When the moment eventually arrives Andi is stunned to find her brother is a giant - eight feet tall and still growing.
Reading Tall Story was a bit like playing pass the parcel; relishing the joy of each layer and reaching a nugget of pure gold at the centre. There are so many layers to this story - Bernardo's culture shock at life in the UK, Andi's divided loyalty between her desire to play basketball and her growing affection for her brother, the nature of superstition, the importance of tradition and the place of family and friendship. Gourlay handles it all with a sure but feather light touch that had me laughing one minute and close to tears the next. Dialogue is a particular strength as Gourlay has an acute ear for her teenage audience and her characterisation is so real it felt as though Bernardo and Andi were sitting beside me.
The story moves constantly between Andi and Bernardo and between the Phillipines and the UK, but the flow is seamless (compare this to Gillian Cross's Where I Belong where the constant switch between characters is at times clumsy and hard to follow). Candy Gourlay has made an incredibly complex structure flow like runny honey off a spoon. If this is her first novel I can't wait to see her next.
Look out for this in the 2010 awards. With an original plot, superb structure, impressive characterisation and equal boy girl appeal, I think we are sure to hear more of Tall Story.