Siobhan Curham, The Moonlight Dreamers, Walker Books, 1 July 2016, 347pp., $16.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781406365825
Amber is regarded as ‘different’ at school and, as is often the case, that perceived difference makes her a vulnerable target for bullies and leaves her somewhat isolated. She begins a club of ‘moonlight dreamers’, girls like her who don’t always fit in with the crowd and who feel isolated and vulnerable. However, the girls don’t really want to be like everyone else and are happy to develop a friendship amongst themselves. They meet after school hours often in mysterious places, usually chosen by Amber. Throughout the developing friendship, the girls learn a lot about themselves as well as about each other, so in many ways, the book is a rites-of-passage story.
Amber is somewhat ambivalent about her sexuality and would like to know which of her two fathers is her biological parent – especially as she is having a difficult time with one of them. Maali feels isolated by her culture, most particularly because people misunderstand it and make ill-informed judgements based on appearance. The book thus serves to develop cultural awareness both in the reader and the characters within the book. Sky and Rose are thrown together as ‘sisters’ because their parents have just become a couple but the girls have little in common and each resents the other’s presence. Sky is especially put out as she now has to share her father, a widower, and move from the houseboat on which they have always lived. On occasion, the girls sometimes seem less than 16 but that’s part of their being isolated, perhaps. It indicates part of their vulnerability as difference can make them diffident and unsure on occasion.
The dialogue is convincing, despite its rather genteel nature. The friction between Sky and Rose is often signified by the strained and rather fractious verbal exchanges between them. On this, however, I think the change in relationship between Rose and Sky, from disharmony to their being quite good friends is perhaps a little abrupt. The discussions between the girls and their parents evoke the types of relationships that exist too and the author uses a more extended and moving interaction between Amber and Gerald, one of her fathers, when the question of Amber’s birth father is resolved. As well as the girls having to learn about themselves and each other, so too, in a variety of ways, have the adults in their lives.
The writing is frequently quite atmospheric and evocative such as the descriptions of the houseboat on which Sky lives, or of the meeting on the roof top of Amber’s house, overlooking London. The book is English but the themes are universal. It’s an enjoyable read and not overtly didactic, despite its having a number of messages to convey.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel