When was on the Hachette website grabbing that summary just now I noticed the endorsement from Melina Marcheta which – no surprise – says exactly the right thing with the most perfect words. It says: “A gorgeous book … it’s timeless and beautiful and it deserves to be read by people of all ages.”
As well as the fact that this is completely true, I wanted to share it here because Danielle’s writing in this novel reminded me of Melina’s – it has a similar feeling of nostalgia and place and family that makes me feel like my heart is being hugged.
One of the things I think is really brilliant about this book – and the thing that I think makes it compelling and relatable across such a broad age range – is the way that we see everything as it unfolds from the perspective of eleven/twelve year old Fred, but the overarching story is being told by an older Fred looking back. I feel like this helps keep the story middle-grade ‘appropriate’ but also gives this wonderful sense of reminiscence for adult readers, as well as giving them a relatable voice too. It also lets some of the more poetic writing feel more natural than it would from the mouth of an eleven year old. I adored those thoughtful bits from older Fred – Danielle’s writing is just so beautiful, and I loved the links she made with geography and maps and people. Confession: this was the first time I have ever dog-eared pages because there was a sentence I loved so much I wanted to be able come back and read it again later. I mean, this is just gorgeous:
“I was eleven when everything started and twelve by the end. But that’s another way that maps don’t tell the whole truth – because it felt like the distance I travelled was a lot further than that.”
The book touches on a lot of heavy issues that I think are deal with in an honest and open but age-appropriate way, including blending of families, loss of a parent, grief (for both kids and adults), pregnancy complications, and refugees (both in terms of why people might be refugees and also the way they are treated). I actually spent all of 1999 living abroad so was pretty unaware of the story of Kosovar-Alabanian refugees coming to Australia, and was interested to fill some of that in while I read the book. I felt like this part of the story was told really sensitively, and I appreciated that Danielle included this as part of the book by telling us the story of what it was like to be a local child seeing this unfold, rather than taking on the voice of the refugees.
I’m not sure what else to say except read this book! It is an exquisite combination of heart-wrenching and heart-warming, and I found it so uplifting – despite the heaviness of some of the subject matter I’m recommending it to everyone who asks me for something hopeful to read right now. I absolutely can’t wait to see what Danielle writes next (I would put heart eye emojis here if I knew how to do that on my computer!). Also, if you are a lover of Australian books and authors and bookstores and you aren’t following Danielle on Instagram yet – you are missing out! It is hard to think of someone who has been a bigger champion for the industry, and I absolutely love following along with all the wonderful things she shares!
ps this cover is so rad
Source: I received a free advance copy from Hachette (Thank you!)
Category: Children’s/teenage general fiction (I’m not sure is 1999 is historical or contemporary!)
Themes: family, war, refugee, home, community