Sporty fam­ily deals with real loss

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - Dani Colvin

THE KEY TO THE GOLDEN FIRE­BIRD By Mau­reen John­son, Hot Key Books, soft­cover, $ 19.95

EV­ERY­ONE deals with grief and the fall­out of loss in their own way.

When Mike Gold dies of a heart at­tack in the garage of their home, his three teenage daugh­ters Brooks, May and Palmer, all named af­ter base­ball play­ers, must find their way through the dark­ness on their own.

Their mother is so sub­sumed by grief and the need to work so they don’t lose the house, she sim­ply isn’t there for her girls.

Brooks has taken up drink­ing with the same ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion she once ap­plied to soft­ball, and Palmer, a gifted soft­ball pitcher, lies in front of the blar­ing TV, or walks silently around the house, watch­ing her sis­ters’ ev­ery move.

May, the re­li­able mid­dle daugh­ter, the one who never had the same sport­ing con­nec­tion with her dad and who dili­gently works in a dreary cof­fee house to save money for col­lege, hits the books harder and tries to rec­on­cile to the no­tion her dad never felt the same pride in her as he did for her sporty sis­ters.

May is used to be­ing self- re­liant, but she needs to learn to drive – and she needs help. It un­ex­pect­edly comes in the form of Dave, the boy she’s grown up with, who it seems has spent his life mak­ing her’s a mis­ery with his teas­ing and pranks.

But as he teaches her to drive her dad’s beloved Pon­tiac Fire­bird, May’s feel­ings for Dave take a sur­pris­ing turn.

And when Palmer’s snoop­ing re­sults in a stun­ning find, the three girls find a way back to each other through a com­mon cause that will fi­nally start the heal­ing process they des­per­ately need.

The Key to the Golden Fire­bird is the de­but novel by Mau­reen John­son. It was first pub­lished in 2004 and was listed as a Best Books for Young Adults by the Amer­i­can Li­brary As­so­ci­a­tion in 2005.

John­son han­dles the sis­ters’ de­spair with a light touch. Lit­tle anal­y­sis is given to Brooks’ and Palmer’s be­hav­iour; they are sim­ply qui­etly ob­served and it is left to the reader to make sense of them.

Sim­i­larly, while things def­i­nitely take a turn for the bet­ter by the end, not ev­ery­thing is neatly tied up with a bow – and the book is all the bet­ter for that.

BOY NO­BODY By Allen Zad­off Orchard, soft­cover, $ 14.99

A 12- YEAR- OLD boy is taken by his par­ents’ mur­der­ers and trained to be­come a killer him­self.

Metic­u­lously trained by The Pro­gram to carry out as­sign­ments, the now 16- year- old has be­come the per­fect sol­dier.

Stripped of emo­tion and de­void of friends or fam­ily, life is just a se­ries of mis­sions handed to him by his bosses, whom he calls Mother and Fa­ther.

He takes on a new alias, slips into a new town and stays long enough to build con­nec­tions and carry out the hit be­fore dis­ap­pear­ing as qui­etly as he came, leav­ing his vic­tim to be found dead from “nat­u­ral causes”.

He makes no moral judg­ments of him­self or the peo­ple he is sent to dis­patch. He is quick, clean, ef­fi­cient and he never gives the job an­other thought af­ter it has been com­pleted.

But his new as­sign­ment, to kill the mayor of New York, presents com­pli­ca­tions. The mayor re­minds Ben – the alias the boy uses for this as­sign­ment – of his fa­ther.

And as the mem­o­ries start to come back, so do the many ques­tions he has never asked.

But mem­o­ries and ques­tions do not a good killer make. And with Mother and Fa­ther watch­ing his ev­ery move, Ben knows he can­not af­ford to re­veal any doubts.

To make mat­ters worse, the mayor’s daugh­ter Sam – smart, feisty, and of course, beau­ti­ful – adds an­other layer of com­pli­ca­tion Ben re­ally doesn’t need. The more he starts to think and feel, the more we start to feel for him.

Won­der­fully writ­ten, with taut, spar­ing prose, this is a cracker of a thriller. A com­pelling, if some­what dis­turb­ing read. The way Ben mur­ders peo­ple doesn’t seem to cause pain – but he is still a killer.

While this may not make this book one for ev­ery­one ( and I cer­tainly wouldn’t rec­om­mend it for younger teens), adults would most likely find it a com­pelling read.

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