In the 1990s, there was an archaeological dig in some historic lanes in Melbourne’s central business district. Thousands of bits and pieces from the 19th century, when people lived there, turned up. It has only been in recent years that people have started moving back into the CBD and those are mostly the ones who can afford the horrendous prices of city property, but a century ago there was a large migrant and working-class population living there.
In the Melbourne of the 1890s recession live four young friends: Lonnie, Daisy, Carlo and Pearl. Lonnie is working as a stable hand and about to ride in an illegal midnight race through the streets — a race he has just discovered is fixed. Daisy is a Salvation Army lass and seamstress with no parents and a dark memory that only surfaces in her sleep. Carlo drives a fruit cart and has ambitions to open an ice cream factory. Pearl has been sold into prostitution and is trying to escape from a particularly nasty madam. In Lonnie’s Shadow (Ford Street) features these intertwining stories and each chapter is headed by a description of an item found in the archaeological dig. Each object is mentioned, if only in passing, in the course of the chapter.
The use of the objects found in the dig is a nice touch. There’s also a mention of the Parliamentary mace that went missing around this time — and who is to say it didn’t happen in this way?
In Lonnie’s Shadow works very well as an historical novel, if you can find some teens who like straight historical fiction, as opposed to historical fantasy. There is a strong flavor of the period in which it happened — and if you happen to live in Melbourne, as I do, it’s fascinating to imagine what your city might have been like in those days — long after the gold rushes, about 20 years before the First World War. The chapters are short and easy to read.
But you really need to persuade kids to read historical fiction these days. There are always some, but the genre has been out of fashion for a long time, which is a shame. Talk the teenager in your lfe into reading this. It’s worth it.