The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen and Unwin, 2010. ISBN 9781742374710.
(Age 13+) Recommended. Ursula Dubosarsky is a multi-award winning author and all her skill and talent is evident in this eerie and hard to forget novel. It is the tale of eleven little schoolgirls who are mesmerised by their flamboyant teacher, Miss Renshaw. She loves poetry, and on the day that Ronald Ryan is hung, takes them off to beautiful gardens near their school to think about death. Here they meet a young man who Miss Renshaw admires. Using his deep owl-like voice, he reads them poetry, and easily persuades them all to go with him to explore a cave along the shore. What happens in the cave? What are the schoolgirls hiding?
The book is set in Sydney in 1967 and covers the period in the schoolgirls' life to 1975. Descriptions of the all-girls school and the teachers there are fascinating, as are the references to Ronald Ryan, the Vietnam War and conscription. Endpapers with newspaper headlines and exacts of events of the time also add to the setting.
Dubosarsky deftly uses this background, melding it with a chilling psychological mystery, to build up suspense around the teacher's disappearance. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through the book, trying to work out what happened to their teacher. At the same time the vivid writing fascinated me, as did the descriptions of all the characters and the puzzle surrounding Icara's mother.
An excellent choice for a class set or literature circle, the disturbing atmosphere and strange mystery of The Golden Day will haunt me for a long time. People who were fascinated by Picnic at Hanging Rock will love this.