Jane Godwin, As Happy as Here, Hatchette Children’s Books, July 2019, 273 pp., RRP $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780734419231
Sometimes people come into your life very unexpectedly, and they teach you unexpected lessons. Over the course of two weeks, Evie’s life changes dramatically – and she will grow in many unexpected ways.
It begins with a frightening, jarring, lurching chord of all the wrong notes at once. A terrible accident has left Evie in hospital with severe leg injuries, and as a champion runner, she is afraid that the future everyone had planned for her is now over.
Evie finds herself in a hospital ward with two other girls – Lucy and Jemma. The girls are from very different backgrounds, and each faces their own struggles; Lucy, the pessimist who is trying to beat Leukaemia, and streetwise Jemma, recovering from appendicitis and seemingly alone in the world.
Told from Evie’s perspective, As Happy as Here has the slower pace of a hospital stay. The girls’ access to social media and the outside world is limited, and the days drift by, filled with bad television and discomfort. This reprieve from the usual fast-paced lifestyle of teens gives Godwin plenty of time to explore important themes, such as identity, expectation, class and fairness. It also allows the girls’ characters, particularly those of Evie and Jemma, to grow, so that in the final chapters when the pace suddenly accelerates, the reader is left with the feeling that a lot more time has passed than just two short weeks.
As Happy as Here starts slowly but rewards the perseverant reader. Girls aged 11-14 will find something to identify with in each of the characters and will enjoy this well crafted and easy to read novel. Perfect for a book club read, with lots of rich themes and topics to discuss, As Happy as Here should find its place in school and public libraries. With an overarching message of kindness and friendship, this story is a refreshing read and will suit girls who enjoy contemporary coming of age novels set in Australia.
Reviewed by Kay Oddone. Read Kay’s interview with Jane