Jane Davis

A Funeral for an Owl

A Funeral for an Owl
Author:
Illustrator: Andrew Candy
Published: November 3, 2013
What kind of a boy would it take to convince two high school teachers to risk their careers? Times have changed since Jim Stevens chose to teach. Protocol designed to protect children now makes all pupil/teacher relationships taboo – even those that might benefit a student. What kind of boy would cause Jim to risk his career? A boy who can clothe a word in sarcasm; disguise disdain with respect. So what is it that Jim finds he has in common with 14-year-old Shamayal Thomas as they study the large framed photograph of an owl that hands above the fireplace? It is Aimee White’s owl, to be specific. At least, that’s how Jim thinks of it. A powerful exploration of the ache of loss, set in a landscape where broken people can find each other.

Reviewed by Awesome Indies Assessor

December 8, 2014

Jane Davis has the insight and sensitivity of a great writer; with a little more refinement, she could be a great writer. This story is about a school teacher accidentally stabbed as he tried to break up a fight at school. As he recovers in hospital, he remembers his childhood and the people who left him. People always leave him, and that’s why he avoids a relationship with a female colleague, the second on the scene of the accident and the one who visits him regularly in hospital because he doesn’t really have anyone else—except a student in need that he has reached out to.

The story has several themes. One is the downside of the rules of disclosure and child protection laws when a teacher comes across instances of abuse in a child’s family, and the limitations put on a teachers’ ability to help when a student needs help beyond what can be given within the school’s walls. Another is the affect a missing person has on those that care for the person, and the third is the challenges faced by those living ‘on the wrong side of the tracks’, particularly in relationship to negotiating the gangs.

Davis is skilled at creating real, complex characters that we can relate to and quickly care about. Their circumstances draw out our empathy and increase our understanding of a lifestyle that is probably foreign to most readers. The plot revolves around the suggestion that the two teachers may get together, the question of whether he will live or die and what will happen to the neglected boy with the candid opinions and insightful perception of his two teacher’s lives. As in real life, things do not run smoothly or tie up neatly, and yet the book comes to a satisfying conclusion that is neither soppy nor depressing.

This is a book to which I would love to award 5 stars, but this is not possible due to some formatting issues (blank lines between every paragraph), the occasional clumsy prose constructions and several instances of poor grammar that, though not noticed by your average reader, would not pass an editor in a major publishing house—and this is the benchmark that the Awesome Indies measures against in awarding 4 stars. I have pointed out these issues to the author and I believe that the formatting will be fixed.

These Fragile Things

These Fragile Things
Parents: Ask yourselves how would you react if your 14-year old daughter claimed to be seeing visions? Teenagers: would you risk ridicule and scorn – knowing others besides yourself will be affected – to voice a seemingly impossible claim? As Streatham, South London, still reels from the riots in neighbouring Brixton, Graham Jones, an ordinary father, grows fearful for his teenage daughter Judy who faces a world where the pace of change appears to be accelerating. Judy Jones knows what it means to survive. But when Judy claims to be seeing visions, her father will call it a miracle, and, the headline-hungry press will label her The Miracle Girl. Delusion, deception, diabolic – or is it just possible that Judy’s apparitions are authentic? This intense and emotionally-charged portrait of a family deep in crisis will have you reflecting on all that you believe to be true.

Reviewed 

 

These Fragile Things is an essay on survival: what does it mean to survive? How do we define successful survival? And when one’s life has changed dramatically, how are those around us dragged in to our experience of surviving? When teenager Judy is almost killed in 1982 by a falling tree, her parents respond in very different ways. Her mother, Elaine, is bogged down by the practicalities while her father, Graham, makes a pact with God. In this intense, emotionally complex novel, we witness (in the Biblical sense as well as the literal narrative sense) how Judy’s survival impacts not only on her parents, but those around her. And we wonder – along with all the characters in the book – whether and how that pact with God has manifested itself in the deeply spiritual visions Judy then has.

This book could be seen as an exploration of the impact of the embrace of religion on routine domestic life, but that would be to oversimplify what I think the author is trying to do. This book is more about our desire to explain what happens to us, to justify the tipping of the scales of existence to one side or the other, and our desire to maintain an equilibrium when everything changes. For me, the novel became particularly interesting once Judy began to experience her visions, and the author has done a clever balancing act herself by showing the impact of these extraordinary claims by Judy on two religious figures, Sister Euphemia from Judy’s new convent school, and Father Patrick, Graham’s priest. Their negotiations of their religion with the tensions of the real world are an interesting counterbalance to Graham’s absorption in Catholicism as the means of his salvation and Judy’s.

Without giving away the plot of the novel, what becomes apparent in the last part is that Graham’s initial evaluation of what it means for Judy’s to survive is challenged.  Just as the novel explores in great detail the dynamics of a marriage under pressure, and the pervasive influence of memory and the past in shaping our present choices and how we remember what is happening to us right now, it also explores the dynamics of guilt about that survival. When Judy is labelled the Miracle Girl, she becomes the focus for everyone else’s grief and trouble, not to mention the focus for some equally faithless and lurid speculation about her family. Judy is positioned as responsible for the fates of others because hers seems to have been decided by God.

I would like to have read more about what Judy herself thought about that. We learn quite a lot about Judy’s experiences of her visions, but less about the impact of their consequences on her, such as what she feels about all the people who flock to her door. And while the author has evoked the social and cultural atmosphere of 1982 very effectively, for me there is a bit of a muddling in the narrative voice between the subjective stream of consciousness of Elaine and Graham in particular, and the omniscience of the writer, which occasionally makes Elaine and Graham sound a bit too objective about what is happening to them.

This novel will be about different things depending on who is reading it: about the internal pressures on a family in a crisis; a meditation on how teenagers and their parents negotiate changes brought on by growing up; about the difference between religion and faith and the sheer power of belief. Whatever you take away though, this book will make you think.

4 Stars.

Review by Evie Woolmore.

I Stopped Time

I Stopped Time
Edwardian Brighton. A wide-eyed girl enters Mr Parker’s photographic studio and receives her first lesson about the rising medium that is to shape her life: “Can you think of a really good memory? Perhaps you can see it when you close your eyes. Now think how much better it would be if you could take it out and look at whenever you wanted to!”