Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Dying to Tell Me - Sherryl Clark

There’s been a lot going on in thirteen-year-old Sasha’s life and a move to Manna Creek with Dad and younger brother, Nicky, is supposed to be a good thing, sort out some of the challenges. But will it? Who wants to start off in a new school as a policeman’s kid, when your father is the only cop in town? Anyway, Manna Creek feels like a ghost town to Sasha – in more ways than one. The weather’s freezing, the streets are deserted – where are the kids her age? – and there is something ghostly and sinister about the old prison cell between the back of the police station and the house. Sasha making a new start after ending up in the Children’s Court in Melbourne might sound like a good idea to Dad, but it’s not going to be straight-forward. When King, a trained police dog, joins the family, Sasha discovers they are able to communicate with each other. Is it because of the bump on the head when she falls in the forest on the first day? Or is it linked to Sasha’s other mysterious ‘abilities’? Will she be able to make sense of all the weird goings on both within herself and in Manna Creek? Will she find the strength to put her ‘gift’ to good use and save a life?

Sherryl Clark has come up with a pacey first-class mystery that keeps you turning the page. Her prose is vigorous and fresh, with plenty of foreshadowing and withholding of detail to rack up the tension. Sasha’s characterisation drives the story forward and engages the reader, positioning them to see the world through her eyes, to share in her struggles and work through her conflictions. Clark creates believable subtext that adds authenticity and depth to Sacha as she begins to come to terms with her own strengths and capabilities. The authentic relationships with her brother and father work well to ground the story and round it out in juxtaposition to her supernatural connections and abilities. The scarcity of detail around Sacha’s relationship with her mother detracts from this, but perhaps Clark will develop this in a sequel.

This book’s closure leaves the reader with lots to wonder about and in many ways feels like a set-up for a series. There is much in place for the reader to accompany Sacha as she continues to work through her unique life challenges and makes Manna Creek her home. How will she fare at school – what friendships will she develop? Will there be a move towards reconciliation with her mother? How will her relationship with King develop, and what of Tangine and Mark Wallace? How will she continue to manifest her 'gift'?
A quirky but sensitive coming-of-age story about self-acceptance, courage and overcoming adversity. A gratifying and compelling read.

Sherryl Clark, 2014 (first published Kane Millar US 2011)
Distributed by Dennis Jones and Associates

(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 29, Issue 1, March 2014)

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