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The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain is shortlisted for the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction, and the Best First Book Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.
It’s hard not to want to read a book which has “discombobulated” in its title, and thanks to Margaret Mahy it’s a word that many kids will be familiar with.
From the first paragraphs, I was hooked. Summer Rain is a feisty, funny character who has a particularly weird family. Her mother departed the family early in the piece, and with her dad not able to cope, Summer spends much of her school week with her grandfather, Pop – shrewd as a ferret and cunning as a weasel, but also a good mate to Summer, most of the time. His lifelong stinginess means he’s loaded, but you would not know this from the dilapidated farmhouse and the state of Dock’n’Thistle, his rundown farm.
Summer feels that she does not fit in well with her peers, is a bit embarrassed by her living conditions, and makes up for it by being a bit of a clown, which makes her popular with the boys, and viewed more cautiously by many of the girls.
The story is well-developed – a romance between Pop and a local serial marrier (I made that up, I can’t find the right word!) brings Summer tremendous angst and she works to bring this to an end.
How she does that would be a spoiler, but along the way the ideas of real friendship, family loyalty and individuality are well-explored. It’s a bit wacky – quite a bit, actually – but that adds to the charm. I did find my credibility a little bit stretched once or twice but I didn’t really find that mattered in the end.
Julie Lamb writes in an easy, flowing manner and there’s heaps of humour along with the magic. Oh, I did not mention magic before? Well, there is quite a lot, as it happens. But you’ll need to read this book to find out just what that magic does.
Highly recommended, likely to appeal to girls more than boys I think, and definitely worthy of its place in the Book Awards finalists.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain
by Julie Lamb
Published by Submarine (Makaro Press)