Sue Whiting, Tilda, Walker Books Australia, September 2022, 272 pp., RRP 17.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781760654634
Tilda is terrified by the sight of the Brushwood Convent and Orphanage for Girls. She is especially frightened today as this is where Papa will be leaving her while he goes away to fight in the Boer War in South Africa. Papa is all the family that Tilda has since her Mama died. Life has been very tough for both of them. But this is the toughest time of all because Papa is leaving to become a soldier—a good opportunity for him to earn enough money to provide for Tilda and to find them a home.
Tilda speaks with her Mama every day—not in reality but in her thoughts and dreams—but Papa is the person who makes her feel loved and soon he will be gone. When the time comes to say goodbye, Papa gives Tilda the precious gift of a gold chain with a tiny gold cross that had belonged to her Mama. He then shows Tilda two notebooks, one is for Tilda and the other for Papa so they can each write about their daily lives while they are apart. When Papa returns, he and Tilda can share their stories with each other.
Life at The Brushwood Convent and Orphanage for Girls is not a happy existence, indeed it is a struggle just to keep going with all the punishments and hard work plus there is barely enough food to eat. But Tilda quickly makes friends who provide kindness and solace amidst the harshness of her life made even more intolerable by the head nun, Sister Agatha who seems to have taken a strong dislike to Tilda from day one.
This is a book of twists and turns, suspense and drama, love and loss—great reading for the ten plus age group for whom it is intended. There is no way of knowing at the outset of the many complexities that will impact on Tilda and the resilience she will need to come through as the big-hearted girl she has always been.
The wonderful complexity of Tilda by Sue Whiting gives her readers an intriguing story to untangle, piece by piece, with all the rising suspense of a crime novel. The language is directly spoken by Tilda who shares her ups and downs with us and we are on her side all the way. The excerpts from Tilda’s daily entries into her precious book given to her by Papa are enchanting, sometimes dreadful and upsetting, but always from the heart. Tilda calls her journal entries Facts of Brushwood, a task she shares with her friend Annie who adds her Opinion to the daily notes.
As a person who has spent time in Adelaide, the city in which this story is located, I did enjoy the references to public buildings and daily life in the Adelaide suburb of Norwood. However, this story easily relates to most cities in Australia around 1910 and presents an excellent historical reference for a young person to consider the many changes and increased choices that have occurred over the past one hundred plus years.
Reviewed by Jennifer Mors