All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Stay Well Soon – Penny Tangey

on September 17, 2013

Stay Well SoonStay Well Soon
Penny Tangey
University of Queensland Press
2013, 234p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Grade five student Stevie longs to own a horse – her best friend Charlotte has just gotten one, even though Stevie was the one that liked horses first. She’s sure that a horse would make her whole life better. Her friends don’t talk to her anymore, because she doesn’t have one and you have to have a horse to be ‘in the group’. Ever since Dad Ben left to go work interstate, life has been difficult for Stevie. Her mother is only concerned about Stevie’s older brother Rhys because he’s not well. Stevie feels alone.

When Rhys is taken to hospital, her problems seem to increase. Every day now revolves around Rhys, going to visit him, talking about him, hearing about him, having to see a counselor and draw pictures about how she’s feeling, because of Rhys. The one good thing is that at the hospital, Stevie meets Lara, a smart and confident 14yo who has a horse. She draws pictures with Stevie and spends time with her, making her feel like she’s not so alone. Although her mother immediately tries to put a stop to Stevie hanging out with Lara, telling her that Lara is much older than Stevie, more mature. It seems that everything Stevie wants, she can’t have.

I don’t normally read middle-grade fiction – I probably haven’t read a book set for that demographic since I was that demographic, many a year ago. But I received this one from the publisher for review and it intrigued me. I don’t have daughters, but my eldest son is starting school next year and that brings many things to think about.

As a young girl who also desperately wanted a horse (and who had a best friend that had a large property with several), I could relate to Stevie’s desperate desire to own one herself. However unlike Stevie, my friends didn’t alienate me for not having one. The group used to be Stevie, her best friend Charlotte and another girl Brianna but the arrival of April has upset the dynamics. She has a horse and has bonded with Charlotte because of that, alienating Stevie and making her feel unwelcome and out of place. That isolation did take me right back to school and the changing dynamics of social groups – everything balances on a knife edge and learning to negotiate the changes is tricky. I felt sorry for Stevie but also quite proud of the way that she coped. She’s a solitary sort of girl and she retreats into herself a little, which makes people come to her. She didn’t lash out or attempt to play games. She was miserable because she was being cast out but it only took her once or twice to realise that trying to change to fit in wouldn’t work.

The one bright thing in Stevie’s life is meeting Lara at the hospital – she immediately thinks Lara is pretty cool and is awed when she can draw an amazing horse and even more impressed when Lara tells Stevie that she has her own horse. Stevie is perhaps too young to understand the possible reasons she’s met Lara in the hospital where her brother Rhys has been admitted but her mother is not. When she realises the friendship between the two is growing, she forbids Stevie to see Lara, citing their age differences, which Stevie immediately feels is unfair. Although I hadn’t found much to admire in Stevie’s mother so far in the book, I did understand her need to protect her daughter from probable heartbreak. However keeping Stevie away from Lara wasn’t going to be that easy and given Rhys’s condition, Stevie was always going to find out Lara’s situation. I liked Lara, especially the way in which she was so kind to Stevie and her braveness about what was happening to her.

Stay Well Soon was a really enjoyable read exploring the mind of a young girl on the cusp of growing up but not quite there yet. I found it remarkably easy to identify with her and her situation and it’s a gentle exploration of a child facing mortality and softer issues like bullying and ostracisation at school and even her struggle with the new family dynamics now that Dad Ben is gone. I’d have loved it as a girl the same age as Stevie and even as an adult, it was easy to appreciate the skill and delicacy with which Penny Tangey teases out the issues in Stevie’s life.

7/10

Book #240 of 2013

AWW2013

Stay Well Soon is the 87th novel read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.

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3 responses to “Stay Well Soon – Penny Tangey

  1. […] 2013 releases also included traditionally published titles: Penny Tangey’s Stay Well Soon (UQP), about a Grade 5 girl coming to terms with mortality; and popular author Isobel […]

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