Double Delight: Are You There, Buddha? & Mina and The Whole Wide World
Experiencing a verse novel for young people is like discovering chocolate crackles are good for you. It’s a marvellous, heart-enveloping revelation, something you instantly want more of and know you’ll never be able to live without again. These two verse novels, one for juniors and the other for middle graders, by accomplished Aussie writers evoke the best chocolate crackle feels and more besides. You must experience them.
Wise, satirical, poignant and alarmingly en pointe, Are You There, Buddha? reads with the ease and speed of a verse novel but involves the reader with so much immersive authenticity, you feel you have experienced something much greater. Bridget, aka, Bee is a tween wobbling on the precipice of teenage-hood, facing all the terrifying manifestations this transformation attracts. Her body is betraying her in increasingly alarming ways, morphing into a lumpy, bumpy, hairy hideous illusion of her former self. She has just started Year 7 and unlike others of her cohort who are keen to surrender to the perils and imperfections of high school, Bee’s reluctance is palpable and at times, hilarious.
Her unwillingness to relinquish the innocence and ease of youth is at odds with the popular kids in her grade and interestingly with her over-intentioned step-mother, Kath. Bee rejects the idea that periods and bras will make her a more complete person, a better person. They represent major distractions to her main focus: to make her school’s elite swim team and compete in the State Champs. To offset the confusion of puberty, Bee practises Buddhism, the rituals for which provide comfort and guidance and in some abstract way, connect her with her mother who left them for her own spiritual calling years ago.
Bee’s bestie is the lay-back Leon, an unaffected friend she’s known since her days in nappies and the best young surfer in the district. Their relationship is salubrious and natural, that is until the tendrils of puberty begin to trip them up, too. As Bee and Leon train, Bee struggles to remain buoyant amid a tumultuous sea of taunts and pre-teen bullying. Her talent in the pool and remarkable sense of self, although subject to drenchings of self-doubt ultimately see her through.
Bee’s coming of age story reflects the multitude of emotions and minutiae of misgivings girls her age endure as they cross from juniors to young women. It is both reflective for older readers and reassuring for younger ones. Bee’s desperate moments of clarity which assume the words of Buddha, are illuminating and create balance against themes of harsher intent; parental expectations and emotional abuse, abandonment, bullying and mental resilience.
Are You There, Buddha? has the magnetic charism of an award winning novel, created with consummate passion, wisdom and understanding, with a love so powerful for her main character, you’d swear the author knows her in real life. Perhaps we all knew a girl like Bee or was bit like her in a past life…that feels appropriately, Buddha. Whatever your situation, this is a book worth sharing and experiencing. Highly recommended.
Title: Are You
Author: Pip Harry
Publisher: Lothian Children’s Books, Hachette, $16.99
Publication Date: June 2021
For ages: 10 – 14
Type: Middle Grade Verse Novel
Mina is days away from moving out of her brother’s shared bedroom into her own beautiful one. It is all that she wants, more than anything else in the whole wide world. Thanks to a fruitful garage sale purchase, Mina’s new globe puts the whole wide world into even better perspective. She feels empowered and secure with her position in it that is until, Azzami comes along. He is quite and insular, strange in appearance and manner and worst of all has moved into her room, thanks to her parents’ altruistic reactions to a refugee in crisis.
Mina is unable to reconcile her disappointment and finds it difficult to show any compassion for this unexpected visitor. He in turns seems unable to stand up for himself against ignorant school bullies which, frustrates her further. Not even chocolate chip ice cream can melt his mantle of despair and melancholy. It seems the differences of the whole wide world have taken up residence in Mina’s room and it’s not until Mina notices Azzami’s story unfold in a visual narrative on her bedroom wall that the petals of friendship also begin to unfurl.
Mina and the Whole Wide World is a story with hefty overtones yet is told with a gentle poetic hand that allows space for readers to stop, reflect and imagine. Briony Stewart’s touching line drawings further enhance contemplative distance whilst simultaneously evoking empathy for Mina’s situation. A gem of a novel encompassing friendship, inter-racial harmony and compassion.
and the Whole Wide World
Author: Sherryl Clark
Illustrator: Briony Stewart
Publisher: UQP, $14.99
Publication Date: June 2021
For ages: 7+
Type: Junior Fiction Verse Novel