The story of Eva Carmichael by Gary Crew

cover image

Ill. by Paul O'Sullivan. Harbour Publishing, 2018. ISBN 9781922134103
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended. Themes: Shipwrecks. Loch Aird. Migration. Victoria. Subtitled, "The wreck of the Loch Aird", this informative, sumptuously illustrated picture book will have readers delving into the delights of the internet to verify the truth behind the tale. The wreck of the ship along Victoria's infamous Shipwreck Coast is certainly true, and many visitors stop and wonder at Loch Aird Gorge during their trip along the Great Ocean Road. Crew imagines the young survivor (one of only two) of the shipwreck, Eva Carmichael, later recalling her life and in particular, the shipwreck.
Through his narrative, Crew fleshes out the reasons why her family emigrated, details life on board the ship, and the horror of that night, her rescue and life after the shipwreck. As with the book which burst on the young adult scene in 1990, Strange objects, this is a mix of fact and fiction, so seamlessly entangled that Crew has created a credible and entertaining story about one girl's life, built up around a true event, shocking in itself, but sure to carry every reader with it.
Strange objects saw many people debating whether his hero was a true character or fictional, whether the shipwreck had actually occurred, and I remember fielding many questions about the book in schools. So it will be with this book, many will debate the reality of Eva's narrative, wanting to find a diary in the state archives, others marvelling at Crew's ability to reveal the mind of this young woman with such empathy.
Part of the magic of this book is brought by the illustrator who uses his pencils to detail the ship and its rigging, the high seas and the shipwreck. Each view of the seas brings a different breathtaking perspective to the eye of the reader, and they like me will eagerly search each page, breathing in the details, admiring the way O'Sullivan draws the seas and its animals, the cliffs and the debris left by the shipwreck. I love the image of the girl on the front cover, contrasting with her image as an older woman in Ireland at the end, and the famous Peacock on display in Warrnambool's museum.
This is a wholly satisfying historical picture book which will ensure readers will inquire further, adding to their knowledge of an incident in Australia's past.
Fran Knight