Kate Gordon, The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn. University of Queensland Press, September 2020, 184 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 978070226282
Wonder Quinn lives in a school called Direleafe Hall. Every year she longs to make friends and each year she is disappointed. No-one ever seems to see her and even the teachers ignore her. Then a new student arrives and immediately sits next to Wonder and asks to be her friend. Why is it that Mabel can see Wonder when no-one else can? Wonder also has a companion called Hollowbeak, a raven, which no-one can see except Mabel. The raven acts as a kind of alter ego for Wonder – he voices in her head what she is actually thinking, telling her, for example, that Mabel won’t stay, will leave Wonder who will then be unhappy and alone again. As Mabel and Wonder’s friendship develops, Wonder becomes less reliant on the raven and more confident in her own reactions.
Mabel has a list of all the things she wants to do in her life, and she encourages Wonder to join her as she crosses some of these off. She seems to be in a hurry to get them all done, something which gives the reader a hint as to Mabel’s ‘secret’ and the reason she alone can see and talk to Wonder. Gradually we find that Wonder’s mother is dead and she has no recollection of her father. Mabel’s parents appear over-protective until we see how dramatically she reacts to be pushed over by the school bully. Is there actually something wrong with the vivacious, boisterous girl? The last item on her list is Break Someone’s Heart. Whose will it be? Some of Mabel’s thoughts and longings are expressed in free verse poetry which moves the narrative along in a different style. Mabel’s eventual death is handled sensitively and movingly as is the issue of memory – memories can bring both beautiful and painful thoughts of the past, sometimes at the same time.
This is a school story with a difference, exploring friendship and grief in a delightful, sometimes even whimsical manner. The ending brings the story full circle, and the secret of Wonder’s past is revealed. There are black and white illustrations by Rachel Tribour throughout and the production of the whole book is attractive and inviting. It also comes with a black feather (one of Hollowbeak’s?) and a small notebook, just the right size for making lists.
Reviewed by Margot Hillel