Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Review of Justin D'Ath - Pool

Wolfgang Mulqueen is a sixteen-year-old schoolboy in New Lourdes, Australia working a summer job at the miracle pool that has put the town on the map (and caused its renaming from Loddon Springs). The water in the pool has a slope - finding its "level" a few degrees off horizontal - and, since an incident a dozen years previous, a reputation for healing properties.

A butterfly lands on one of the pool's visitors, a blind girl slightly older than Wolfgang named Audrey, who visits the pool daily but not to experience its waters, preferring to sleep in the shade of an umbrella poolside. The butterfly collector in Wolfgang cannot resist taking a closer look and so he announces himself to Audrey so his approach does not scare her.

This single event begins an unusual summer for Wolfgang. He begins a friendship with this unusual blind girl - one that is encouraged by her father who actually pays Wolfgang to spend time with his daughter, so worried is he by her solitary and nocturnal nature. Their friendship blossoms, despite Wolfgang seeing her more bizarre side, including a liking for walking through cemeteries at night, and finding out more about the mysterious events of her past.

This is a young adult novel. I thought I'd better mention it. It doesn't read like other young adult fiction I've read. Its plot is more surreal, and its characters more flawed - just witness the monetary agreement between Wolfgang and Audrey's father for proof. It's also not a book for traditional plot-strand resolutions. This is not a give-away, by the way. Right from the off you feel this is not going to be a standard boy-meets-girl-during-a-supernatural-event-happily-ever-after tale.

There is a deal of the boy-meets-girl in this book, the two go on dates and there are first kiss moments, but there is something different underlying the whole. Audrey's back-story, with regards the accident that left her in a coma for months and caused her blindness, has uncanny timing when compared to the sloping pool and Wolfgang's own life. She also seems disconnected somewhat, as though she never totally returned after reviving from her coma.

The human side of the story is not lost amongst the spookiness. Wolfgang is a typical sixteen-year-old, full of hormones and very much aware of Audrey as female. He matures through the book, as witnessed by the changing of priorities regarding his butterflies. And, although he still has childish tendencies including a stutter when he becomes embarrassed or nervous, the Wolfgang at the end of this book is noticeably older than at the story's beginning.

There are some tender moments in the story, in the relationship between the two main characters - most especially during a trip to the zoo butterfly house, so he can properly introduce her to the creatures and show her his passion for them. It's their interaction that is the strongest part of the novel - D'Ath has managed to make their stuttering feelings totally believable.

It's not a book that is going to make me concentrate on reading young adult novels; I still want more to my fiction. But it is one that proved to me that books for younger reader have great merit.

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