Pip Harry, The Little Wave, University of Queensland Press, May 2019, 234 pp., RRP $16.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780702260476
Noah, Lottie and Jack are 10 year olds, each facing difficult life challenges. They become friends when Noah and Lottie’s school in Manly hosts a class of Year 5s from a western NSW country town, Mullin.
Noah is a keen surfer who is fearless in the water but lacks the courage to stand up to the bullying ways of his supposedly best friend. Lottie’s fascination with insects is a distraction from her loneliness at school and her difficulties coping with her grief -stricken Dad. Jack is the Mullin country kid who has never seen the ocean and longs to go on the trip to Manly. But he must improve his school attendance and school performance if he is to be included in the school trip – if only he could find his school shoes and something to eat in the chaos of his home. The plans for the school trip bring the three kids together and they form a genuine, caring friendship which is heart-warming, as is the love and care they receive from supportive adults.
The book consists of short chapters, each dedicated to one of the characters. The writing style is descriptive free verse which I found a bit disconcerting at first. But I soon came to enjoy the strong imagery of this writing style as the three characters and their stories are developed with vivid descriptions of their everyday experiences, memories, preparations for the Mullin school visit and their inner thoughts and feelings. Jack describes his frustration with school – “In class, my shirt itches, my shoes are too tight, I can’t focus ….”. Noah’s empathy for Lottie’s feelings of rejection are encapsulated in these lines – “Adie’s friends giggle, and Lottie is sad and small again, her smile gone, her silent tears running down her cheeks.” Noah describes playing with his bullying friend as “… stinging palms from heavy high fives. Rock paper scissors where his rock crunches my knuckles. Rugby tackles that leave me winded …”. Another advantage of the free verse style is that it has a format of short phrases per line, making for manageable reading for weaker readers.
The Little Wave is a lovely story about valuing genuine friendship, coping with being bullied, developing confidence, finding ways to change what you can, accepting what can’t be changed – and getting back onto your surfboard when you fall off. The characters are believable and relatable ordinary kids, and I came to admire them and hope for improvement in their life circumstances. The descriptions of everyday Australian school routines will be familiar to Australian kids. The story is set in lovely Manly Beach and surroundings which makes for a pleasant and scenic backdrop.
I recommend this book for boys and girls aged 9 – 11 years.
Reviewed by Barbara Swartz