Sick Bay – a gentle, heartwarming story about friendship!

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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

Lenny’s Book of Everything

Author: Karen Foxlee

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

The story takes place in Ohio, a state in the USA. It’s set in the 1970s. A time before technology overtook our lives. The main character, Lenny, lives in an apartment with her mum, Cynthia Spink, the proud, hard-working, sharp-witted, anxious mother of two and her younger brother, Davey – her happy-go-lucky brother who has gigantism. Her father, Peter Lenard Spink, has left them. He hopped on a Greyhound bus and never returned.

Lenny’s Book of Everything is captivating, charming and magical. Lenny, her mother and brother, live an ordinary life except for the fact that Davey grows at an alarming rate. At age six, he is four foot and ten inches or the equivalent of about 147 centimetres.

So what makes this book so charming? Is it because it set in the 1970s when life was simpler? The highlight of the children’s week is the arrival of the Burrell’s Build-it-at-Home Encyclopaedia which their mother won for the children through her talented writing. Cynthia Spink’s communication with Burrell’s (through letters) is a memorable part of the book.

The encyclopaedias allow the children a glimpse of the world that exists outside their apartment and their small town. They experience the wonders of the world through the books. Lenny discovers a fascination of beetles and dreams of being a coleopterist. Davey becomes enthralled with birds of prey and travelling to Great Bear Lake. I often wonder if Lenny fulfilled her dream and became a coleopterist.

A lot of the charm and magic of the book lies with the characters. Every character adds an element to the story from Lenny’s best friends CJ Bartholomew and Matthew Milford to the school principal Mrs Dalrymple – keep an eye out for Mrs Dalrymple and Mrs Oliver towards the end of the book!

My favourite character was Mrs Gaspar. The odd old Hungarian woman who lives in their apartment block and who looks after the children when Cynthia works. Every child should experience a Mrs Gaspar when growing up – she’s so beautifully disagreeable.

“The abominable snowman,” said Davey.

“Pah,” said Mrs. Gaspar, and she waved her hand as though we bored her. “I saw him once when I was walking home from school in Hungary.”

This bittersweet tale is full of so many perfect moments that remind you that our best life is experienced through kindness, hope and love. Lenny’s Book of Everything is gorgeous and borders on perfection. Thank you, Karen Foxlee, for giving me the reading collywobbles ♥

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