To and fro by Anton Clifford-Motopi

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What a fun debut novel for young people (especially boys) is To and fro by Anton Clifford Motopi! Writing from his own experience of being mixed race and now raising four children of his own, Clifford Motobi has produced a lively, funny take on coming of age through the first person narration of Sam, a mixed race 12 year old Australian boy, son of a single mother and of mixed Australian and African race. 

The novel hinges around the old chestnut school project where students are required to research their identity - basically Who am I and where do I come from? As every teacher knows this research can open a can of worms and in To and fro it certainly does! The children are to present their findings at a parent assembly. In the process they find out about themselves and each other with meaningful, life-changing and equally moving and hilarious consequences.

The reader is immersed in the warm and funny family life of Sam, his mother and his dog Trevor. In addition his nanna, his teacher (Mr Peacock) and his friend Aiden, enemy Lachlan Bott and other students play important roles. Sam is a white boy with an Afro. Into the story enters his father and Sam gains another African family with black skinned siblings. His efforts to understand his identity are both touching and funny. Amongst other things, he goes to extreme lengths to change his skin colour and runs into a great deal of trouble including inadvertently causing great offence through appearing at school in 'black face'.

Nanna holds racist views especially about refugees as she feels that they take Australian jobs and live off welfare. Her views moderate. Sam has the greatest shock to overcome. His dog Trevor is an enormous comfort to him. An example is the occasion when Sam confides in him...' 'It's okay, Trevor. I'm in shock because Mum lied to me about my father for twelve years. That's about seventy dog year's of lying.' Dogs don't know their dads, so the full effect of Mum's lies were lost on Trevor. ' (p.41) 

Fresh and thought provoking insights about racial and cultural misunderstandings arise incidentally as the story progresses and are dealt with in a warm hearted manner. 

To and fro would be a useful book for boys in particular to read as it deals in a light hearted and casually instructive way with potentially embarrassing things that can happen as boys go through puberty. 

In summary, To and fro is not only an entertaining and funny book; it would also be helpful for Middle school children (especially boys) coming to terms with identity, changing friendships and changing bodies.

A nice touch is the photo of Anton Clifford-Motopi at the same age as his intended readers on the back page.

Recommended. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes: Identity, Being biracial, Single parent families, Friendship, Adolescent issues for boys.

Wendy Jeffrey