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The Bower Bird (Gussie) by Ann Kelley

The Bower Bird (Gussie)

by Ann Kelley

Series: Gussie (2)

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Almost four weeks ago I set myself up with a project to read the award winners of the present and previous year with the prospect of moving backwards in time if I should run out of titles. On current evidence there doesn’t seem to be much danger of my even getting through this year’s books, let alone having to start searching for titles long out of print. Typically, the library suddenly came through with books I’d had on order for months and very gratifyingly three publishers sent me new novels to read by authors whose works I love, so it has only been this last week that I’ve actually got round to picking up the first of the 2007 winners on my list, Ann Kelley’s Children’s Costa winner, The Bower Bird.
I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t really looking forward to this. It is another book about a seriously ill child whose prognosis is worse than awful and while I appreciated Jenny Downham’s Before I Die, I didn’t particularly want to go there again so soon. Thank goodness then that the Costa judges selected Kelley’s brilliant novel and thereby ’forced’ me to read it, because this is one of the most accomplished examples of children’s literature that I’ve read in a long time. As a piece of literary fiction it far outstrips the Downham, it is beautifully written, and furthermore it focuses primarily on the day to day minutia of living rather than the big events; it is about the delight that can be found in the detail of the ordinary, the extraordinary of the routine. I came away from this book simply grateful for the chance to met with people I love, to watch the development of the oncoming Spring, to enjoy the taste of fresh food and the sounds of beautiful music.
Twelve year old Gussie has pulmonary atresia and consequently she needs a heart and lung transplant. Her daily life is compromised in as much as she is quickly short of breath and not able to go to school for fear of exposure to the type of virus that might bring about a chest infection. But that is only on the surface. Gussie doesn’t live a compromised life, she gets on with what she can do. She may have to be an observer where many things are concerned but as such she finds ways of engaging with the people around her that many twelve year olds would miss. And yet, she is still a typical twelve year old with the same concerns as any of her contemporaries about her appearance, her friendships and her family, especially her family. Her father has left her and her mother and her grandparents are all dead. Finding any remaining family members becomes a major preoccupation. After all, if she doesn’t, who will look after her mother in the years to come? It is the only time that she really allows the thought of the future to impinge on her quiet enjoyment of the present. Because, for most of the course of the book Gussie is simply engaged in relishing the small acts of daily living. Her future is too uncertain, too ‘big’ to contemplate and so she gives herself to what is immediately important. Gussie has so much to teach us all.
There is an earlier book about Gussie, The Burying Beetle, which I have to read as soon as possible. Kelley is a really fine writer and while this is an area close to her heart I can’t believe that she wouldn’t write as well whatever her subject. I don’t know if there will be other books to follow this but I hope so. I want to read much more both about Gussie and by Kelley.
2 vote ann163125 | Mar 22, 2008 |
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Book description
Death: I know, or I think I know that death will only be nothingness, but I don't want oblivion yet. I want to smell honeysuckle in the dark, I want to hear my cat greet me with her special purring mew; I want to smell old books. I want everything, clouds, sunshine, I want to see a whale - I've never seen a whale. I even want to hear the terrifying sound of the sea in a storm. I want a boy to kiss me one day. I want to run along a beach again. I want to go to America and Australia. There are so many books I want to read. I want to live. Gussie lives in Cornwall and, like most 12-year-olds, is quickly growing up. She is also awaiting news of a heart transplant operation. When Gussie moves from the coast to a new house in town, she rebels, discovers her ancestors and an interest in photography, falls in love and has parent troubles; all whilst experiencing general adolescent angst and trying not to wait for what might never happen.
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"Gussie is twelve years old, loves animals and wants to be a photographer when she grows up. The only problem is that she's unlikely to ever grow up. Gussie needs a heart and lung transplant, but the donor list is as long as her arm and she can't wait around that long. Gussie has things to do: finding her ancestors, coping with her parents' divorce, and keeping an eye out for the wildlife in her garden."--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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