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.