What the Raven Saw by Samantha-Ellen Bound
Woolshed Press (Random House Australia), 2013. ISBN 9781742757353.
pbk., RRP $A16.95. Ebook: 9781742757360288.
Vain, arrogant and grumpy, Raven lives in the belltower of an old country church surveying all that goes on below with a very judgemental eye. He is convinced that the weatherhen who swings with the wind with a range of rusty tunes is in love with him, and he is contemptuous of all his other feathered relations, particularly the pigeons. What Raven does like is the music which soars from the church during Sunday Mass, so much so that he has revealed his deepest secret to Father Cadman - ravens can talk to humans, and so after the congregation has left, he joins Father Cadman at the ancient organ so he can learn to sing the hymns.
The story opens with Raven watching the funeral of Todd Trebuchet, a young boy killed by a car after a row with his sister and it is his conversations with Todd's ghost and the distress of McKenzie, his sister, that begins Raven's journey of seeing more than that which physically surrounds him. Making a T of the bottletops (specially shined with eucalyptus) that are part of his precious, closely guarded treasure to mark Todd's as yet unmarked grave, is the start. But it is when, from his perch in the rafters above the Sunday congregation, he sees Barnabas Brittle pocketing part of the collection and other treasures, that the journey really begins. Knowing how he feels about his own treasure, he tells Father Cadman of the theft, but, to his astonishment, Father Cadman does not believe him and bans him from the church and his beloved music.
While the along-the-lines story tells of how Raven enlists the help of Todd, McKenzie, the other ghosts and even the pigeon to show Father Cadman that Brittle is, indeed, a thief so that he can again enjoy the hymns, it is the between-the-lines story of what Raven learns from those he considers to be his inferiors, that give this story its richness.From a suicidal public servant to a dilapidated, out-dated scarecrow, he learns a little about compassion and humility, companionship and modesty - Raven at the end of the story is quite different from Raven at the beginning. He even views Weatherhen and Pigeon differently.
While younger, independent readers could read and enjoy this story, as much for its different approach as anything else, I believe someone with the maturity to be able to view it a little more objectively to delve into its underlying message will enjoy its depth. It would be very well suited to a guided reading text for upper primary students with a teacher leading the way to show students how there is often much, if not more, to a story if they take the time to ask the critical questions to prise out the between-and-beyond the lines story. It would be a great starting point to help them develop those skills required to interrogate a story which they will be expected to have when they go to high school and are confronted by some of the classics that are so much more than a few hours of entertainment.
This is the author's first published novel but, if this is the calibre of her storytelling, she is certainly a new Australian author to look for in the future.