Beanie is counting the days he’s been alive. Every new one is another step closer to achieving a goal of paramount importance: to become a fully-fledged member of his older brother Mark’s gang. To do that he must reach double figures. He’s close: nine years, eleven months and some days. Fortunately a meeting of the Executive Council has approved his probationary status, but Beanie will do almost anything to accelerate the process – including a life-endangering stunt to save the Sweet Dreams Sweet Factory, home of the gang’s secret headquarters. So when the factory is demolished anyway, Beanie sets a new standard in bravery when they decide to search for a new location and check out Black Gate, a condemned old mansion that everybody knows is haunted. And it’s here, when he’s alone in the house, he meets Monkey.
David Gilman has put together a ripping yarn. It’s a warm and funny, superbly plotted story where the stakes are raised incrementally; the reader has no choice but to read on in order to relieve the ever increasing tension and suspense. It even contains the obligatory chase scene – albeit on a postman’s bicycle with a screeching monkey perched on the handlebars! Monkey and Me, however, is much more than an adventure story that features a young boy’s bravery in an attempt to impress his peers and to save a monkey. It is also the poignant narrative of a family doing it tough in the face of serious illness. The reader is cleverly positioned to come to the gradual realisation that this is a story about another sort of bravery. The significance of Beanie counting his age in daily increments takes on a deeper level of meaning when it is revealed that the reason he is so attached to his beanie is because he is bald. Beanie is suffering from Leukaemia. When this comes to light, pieces of a jigsaw puzzle come together for the reader, who is positioned to know more than the protagonist, Beanie, about the seriousness of his illness and the ramifications of the risks he takes in trying to protect Malcolm, his new charge.
(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 29, Issue 2, May 2014)