Sick Bay – a gentle, heartwarming story about friendship!

sick

Author: Nova Weetman
Publisher: UQP

As soon as I heard that Nova Weetman had a new novel out, I wanted to read it. When it arrived in the Australian Standing Order package at school, I pounced on it (quite literally). My library assistant asked me what it was about and I couldn’t answer her! I just knew that it was by Nova Weetman, so it was definitely going to be a good read – and I am happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed. Sick Bay is a heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious novel about the beauty of friendship.

A dual-narrative story about two girls in Year Six who meet in the sick bay at school. For Meg, the sick bay is a place of refuge to avoid the bullies and her life at home. Whereas Riley, a diabetic, doesn’t like sick bay and she can’t understand why anyone would choose to hang out voluntarily in such a place.

Riley is a type 1 diabetic who finds school relatively simple. She’s well-liked and smart and her life at school is pretty good except for her diabetics, which she finds herself hiding from her “popular” friends who wouldn’t understand.

Meg isn’t like most girls her age; she quotes Anne of Green Gables and she has a slightly different take on the world.  Her dad has died and mum isn’t doing a great job of looking after Meg because she’s battling with depression and dealing with her grief.

Meg and Riley’s home life, much like their school life is entirely different. Meg’s mother is consumed by grief and so is neglectful of Meg. Meg has been left more or less to her own devices and is raising herself while also trying to make sure that her mum is okay. Meg’s mother isn’t working and money is tight – there is barely enough money for food, let alone new shoes, so Meg finds herself wearing slippers to school because her regular shoes no longer fit. Of course, this makes her the object of ridicule at school and she is given the nickname ‘slipper girl’.

Riley, on the other hand, has an overprotective and overbearing mother who believes that only she knows what is best for Riley. She doesn’t understand that Riley wants a life that isn’t always ruled by her diabetes.  Riley wants to have control of her diabetes. She wants to live a life that isn’t always about her diabetes. As Riley is leaving childhood and entering teenagehood, she wants to take control of her body.

The two girls meet in sick bay and both are curiously drawn to each other. When they first meet, the two girls know relatively little about each other, but slowly they develop a friendship – a real friendship.

Sick Bay isn’t just about Meg and Riley; there is a whole supporting cast that gives you great insight into the two girls. One of my favourite characters was Dash – another regular in sick bay. Dash is an asthmatic and his visits are twofold – to deal with his asthma and to visit Meg. He and Meg have history and a bond and even though Dash is younger and popular, he has a protective nature towards Meg. One of my favourite lines in the book is about Dash.

I think he’s just observant, like most kids who’ve had to sit out of things and watch the world go on around them.

A lot of our understanding of Meg and Riley stems from their interactions with the supporting characters. Every character adds an element to the story from Sarah, the school receptionist to Meg’s favourite aunt. I love how Nova Weetman places these minor characters in the story and gives insight on how different people will affect us throughout our lives. We are all touched by different people in our lives and Weetman highlights this beautifully. I am sure that Meg will remember Sarah’s kindness for a very long time.

Sick Bay is a heartwarming story of friendship and staying true to yourself and it reminds us that it is the little acts of kindness that make all the difference.

Sick Bay

Take Three Girls

 

 

Take Three Girls is one of those novels that comes with high expectations. Three award-winning authors are writing together in one book. The first time I read this novel, I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about and it was only on my second reading that I appreciated the three narratives that Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood had blended together.  The book’s chapters switch between each girl’s individual view. Take Three Girls is a book so well written that you take the subtleties and the nuances of this beautifully crafted novel for granted.

Ady, Clem and Kate are thrown together as part of their elite school’s Wellness Program. The three girls are put together in a group (based on their thumb size). The Wellness Program forces the girls to interact with one another and it is through this compulsory group that the three girls get to know each other better, eventually becoming friends. These three girls were barely acquaintances and without the program most likely would never have become friends – Clem is a star swimmer, Ady is the Queen Bee and Kate is a quiet over-achieving musician.

As the book progresses you realise there is more to each girl then the label they have been given. All of them are trying to find their way in the world. The girls are on an exploration to discover who they are and how they fit into the world that they live. The book also introduces us to the online site called PSST (Private Schools Secret Tracker). PSST is an online social media site that takes delight in bullying – mainly through body and slut shaming (most of which is untrue). PSST is a toxic website that shows how toxic online social media sites can be and the damage they can unleash.

“The class is filing in for Wellness, a new program designed to cure us of the urge to trash each other on social media. I love the internet, code, computers. I love that if I miss Ben, I can summon him into my room and talk to him over Skype. It’s the most mind-bending invention in the last century and how do humans use it? They access porn and talk smack about each other.’

What I love about this book is that it is a celebration of friendship. Take Three Girls captures what good friendship looks like but it also shows what bad friendship looks like.

“Friends. It seems so simple it’s dumb, but it took you a while to get onboard – a friend is someone you can be real with. No games, no faking it, no showing off, no putting down, no power plays. Not cool or hot or mean or unpopular or fashionable or competing with each other. Just being true. And how that makes you feel is…relaxed.”

This book also celebrates how a few can make a difference in a small way. This is a book about showing teenagers that if everyone made a stand (even in a small way), then the bullies can be put in their place. Online bullying is most likely here to stay, but rather than embracing it and relishing the gossip and takedown of others – stand up, speak out and do what you can. It may only be small. It may not make a huge difference, but it will make a difference. Teenagers are an influential group and they can make a change. Ady, Clem and Kate took on an online site and they may not have stopped it but their small action brought joy and beauty to many and this ultimately is what life is about – giving happiness and taking away pain, even if it is for just a moment.

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