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What happens when your life doesn’t look the way you imagined it? Many of us face this challenge at some point during our lives – something unexpected happens and alters us, changes our view on life and what we do within it in a way that can never be undone, even if we want it to be.
Teenager Harper Holt has just moved to Melbourne, Australia, with her father Hugh and mother Helena. Harper has been warned, they’ll only be there for six months max. The Holts move so often that Harper never fully unpacks her belongings and cannot call any house her home. She is sick of always being the new girl at school, sick of leaving friends behind and having to make new ones, she just wants to stay in one place long enough to call it home. It has always just been the three of them as a unit, with their special bond, their jobs within that unit, and their weekly habits to tie them all together. But then something unimaginable happens and Harper Holt’s life will never be the same again, even though she wishes it could be.
Di Walker’s debut Unpacking Harper Holt is a Y A novel that explores the effects of grief, bullying and feeling lonely, even when you’re in a crowded place. Written as a novel for teens, complete with listed internet resources for dealing with bullying and grief, I was also struck by the feelings this work brought out in myself as an adult. Grief and loneliness is a personalised thing, everyone experiences it differently, but Di Walker manages to include everyone in the experience, to the point that the book reminded me of my own losses and experience of a world and viewpoint forever altered by something beyond my control. This novel explores the desire to control your own experience, the want to change things back to the way you used to know it, and the reality of there being no way back.
I recommend this novel for anyone going through a tough time, for anyone needing help in finding sunshine again. Unpacking Harper Holt provides a vision of what is possible in dealing with life-altering circumstances, how one can accept what life has dealt them and move forward into a new way of life. It shows how friendships and connection with others can help to heal the wounds of grief and bullying.
This book is perfect for that teenager in your life who needs help and reassurance. It is also a good read. In the future I could see this book becoming part of a school’s curriculum to help all students understand what lies behind bullying and also the potential effect of grief on fellow students as well as oneself. This isn’t something I’d normally pick up to read, but I’ve found it very therapeutic and highly recommend it.
Review by Penny M Geddis
Unpacking Harper Holt
by Di Walker
Published by Walker Books, Australia