Penguin Books Aus
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Brisbane lawyer Clare Mitchell is cutting her teeth in Legal Aid, knowing that the time she puts in here will be rewarded down the track. She does have a habit of getting a bit close to her clients, of getting a bit involved but Clare also gets results. When one of her clients Taylor disappears out the front for a cigarette, Clare is happy to watch Taylor’s 4yo son Jack for a few minutes. But then Taylor doesn’t come back. A suitable place cannot be found for Jack, who is believed to be severely autistic. Although she’s only spent a few minutes with him, Clare disagrees with that diagnosis because a lot of it hinges on the fact that Jack doesn’t speak or interact and Clare knows this isn’t true. He has spoken – to her.
Clare decides to temporarily take Jack herself and this ends up involving a whole lifestyle change. Jack doesn’t do well in childcare for long hours and Clare has inherited her deceased father’s German Shepherd pup who doesn’t do well in her tiny apartment. She makes a snap decision to accept the offered leave from work and take Jack to Currawong Creek, the property of her maternal grandparents where Clare spent many happy childhood holidays. Clare hasn’t seen her grandfather for a long time – since her mother left and her father stopped all visits out to her mother’s family. She’s missed a lot, including the death of her grandmother.
Out at Currawong Creek, Clare watches Jack blossom. There’s no doubt that he had some behavourial issues but out on the farm, spending time with her grandfather and the handsome local vet who runs a practice on the property, Jack begins to come into his own, especially when Tom, the vet begins some therapy using horses, something that he’s qualified in. Clare can’t believe how much effect it has on Jack’s temper and attitude. He’s happy, he’s healthy and his development is improving – Clare is more sure than ever that he is definitely not severely autistic. Tom helps her explore alternatives and also gives her the proof she needs to take to the department who have refused to believe the diagnosis could be a mistake.
Clare has never been happier. She finds herself worrying less about her career and reluctant to return to Brisbane to work. She’s finding love with Tom, the local vet after a heartbreak. She sees the way Jack is growing and developing and she’s loving the time she’s spending with her grandfather again. But there are threats to Clare’s new found happiness – Taylor, Jack’s mother has resurfaced and is looking to seek custody again. And a mining company are making inroads on her grandfather’s beloved farm and threatening to destroy it, despite all the protests from the local community. Now it looks like Clare’s happiness is about to be snatched from her.
Currawong Creek is the second novel from Jennifer Scoullar and we begin in the city with Brisbane lawyer Clare who ends up with temporary custody of a troubled young boy named Jack. Diagnosed as severely autistic with little chance of ever communicating, Clare knows that this is wrong – she’s heard Jack speak. Given he won’t speak for anyone else, she decides to look after him and this proves to be more difficult than she first assumed. Jack has issues with temper, toileting, anxiety and obviously, communication. He runs into trouble at daycare and Clare finds the best way to handle him is to keep him outside and moving. It’s obvious that taking him to her father’s country property has a huge positive impact on Jack. He still has his moments and his issues but he begins to really improve and take even more steps to disprove his diagnosis.
Time on the property is beneficial for more than just Jack – Clare relaxes, settles in to country life, helping out local vet Tom and spending time with her grandfather. She has more time to spend with Jack, working with him to build up his trust and security and she begins a romance with Tom. Her grandfather gains a new lease on life having them there and it seems as though life is perfect – but things can’t last forever and when Jack’s mother turns up, Clare is devastated. She doesn’t believe that Taylor could have turned her life around so quickly, nor does she believe that she’s best option as Jack’s carer.
I was a little torn on this issue at first. Taylor was an unreliable character – she swung from being thankful to abusive, conciliatory to negative. I believe that she loved Jack and wanted the best for him and that perhaps she had been swayed into things she didn’t exactly want. The character of the lawyer and the child protection worker were overly aggressive and frustrating at times – I don’t know how Clare held her tongue in relation to the way she was spoken to, like she was an errant child. Taking on a child like Jack was a huge ask for someone unprepared and untrained like Clare. She obviously had little idea what to do with a 4yo in the beginning (that was obvious by all the Coke she kept pouring into him) but she was willing to have a go, to put herself out for him when no one else would. They bonded, she came to love him, she came to see him as hers. He wasn’t, but she viewed him that way. When she and Tom, the vet disagree about who should care for Jack, I thought that Clare’s reaction was a little over the top. There was nothing wrong with what Tom said. But Clare too a “with me or against me” attitude which wasn’t exactly helpful.
This book taught me a lot of curious things – for instance, I learned that the average 4yo asks about 400 questions a day. I believe my 4yo asks many more than that but it definitely showed me I’m not alone in answering questions like “Mum, what’s a government? What are taxes? Who drives ambulances? What’s an election?” (why yes my child does listen to too much ABC radio in the car with his father). Also, if your private land contains minerals then all the minerals are the property of the Crown, although no mining can occur until compensation has been made, so at best mostly all you can do is delay. The value of the element be it coal, natural gas or other far outweighs the rights and wishes of the owner of the land. I very much felt for Clare’s grandfather and his passionate view of keeping the company off his land. He’d seen first hand what had happened to other properties and it was sad that were very few options open to him other than barring his gates and blocking the way and making it too difficult. He’d seen other people succumb to the offers of compensation and then have their land destroyed and no amount of money would be worth damaging Currwawong Creek.
Another enjoyable book celebrating the land and love from this author.
Book #140 of 2013
Stay tuned for my Q&A with Jennifer Scoullar which will be posted on the blog at midday!
Currawong Creek is the 60th novel read and reviewed for AWW2013