Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Children’s Books: A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard

A Small Free Kiss In The Dark (Allen and Unwin) by Glenda Millard is a story about ordinary people in an unexpected war.

Skip, a boy who has been living in abusive foster homes, runs away. On the streets, he meets Billy, an old man who has his own painful memories and has been living rough or in refuges. Billy has learned how to survive there without losing his soul and he has begun to teach Skip how to do the same when, overnight, the city is bombed.

The old man and young boy take refuge, at first, in the State Library, where they meet Max, a little boy who was waiting for his mother to pick him up after school when the bombs started to drop. The city is becoming less and less safe and the three head along the railway tracks towards Dreamland, a now-abandoned amusement park by the sea. There, they are joined by dancer Tia and her baby, Sixpence. Skip overcomes his grief at his loss of his father with this family, something he has not known in a long time. Billy also needs to purge his own grief at having made a mistake that lost him his own son.

The city in the novel is clearly meant to be Melbourne, but is never named and there are some differences. We are never told who the invaders are, or why they have invaded, because that’s not the point. The point is, how might people treat each other when suddenly home is no more -- for anyone? In A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, people can be kind to each other -- even an invading soldier can suddenly realize that this horror isn’t what he signed up for. There is a new family made up of Skip, who can’t remember having a family apart from a soldier father suffering post-traumatic stress disorder; Billy, who lost his child; Max, who had a family and misses his mother and Tia, who has become a mother far too young and has no one to care for her and her child.

The book provides food for thought and should appeal to children of 11 or 12 and upwards.

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