The Red Suitcase is a cross-over novel, combining the modern world with snippets from WWII. Our heroine, Ruth, is having to adapt to being back in New Zealand, after a suicide bomber tore her family’s life in Indonesia apart. Returning to Takapuna beach proves something of a social challenge, and to make matters worse, she begins to have random flashbacks. Unexpectedly, she finds herself like a ghost, haunting the presence of a young man, Jonah, the piloting of a bomber during the second World War.
What connection does he have with the red suitcase, stored in her Grandmother’s closet? Not willing to confide in her friend, Sally, or her family, fearing they might think her deluded, Ruth instead confides in physics geek, Thomas. Can he hold the answer to the mystery? But he too, has issues of his own, as the constant target of the gang of local bullies.
For a short novel, The Red Suitcase deals with a wide range of modern topics that teenagers will identify with: from Ruth adapting to the new school, the confusion and pleasure of reuniting with a childhood friend (then finding out that she has some uncomfortable family secrets too), the joys of fitting in and finding her voice with the school choir. We also see Thomas dealing with the bullies, (in what is perhaps not the most appropriate manner) and the distressing consequences.
The World War II flashbacks are widely interspersed, well researched and quite informative – in a not-realising-you’re-learning kind of way – and prove a dramatic counterpoint to the life of the modern youth. It does move at a fairly languid pace, although the character interactions and the eloquence of certain details, such as the choir practices, kept my interest focused. The climax, when it came, was with a dramatic rush and somewhat unexpected.
A light, relatively easy read, with facts interspersed amongst the fiction and some well-developed characters.
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
The Red Suitcase
by Jill Harris
Published by Makaro Press