by Joanne Horniman
Published by Allen and Unwin
180 pages, 2006
Light in the Gloom
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
In the novel Mahalia we met a teenaged father named Matt. While his friends from school were getting on with homework and sport and swimming in the river, Matt was caring full-time for his baby daughter, Mahalia, after his girlfriend Emily, Mahalia's mother, had run away from them both.
It was a sweet, gentle story about a boy who is too young for parenthood, but nevertheless handles it as best he can, without regret. During the story, Matt learned about himself, bonded strongly with his child and even found a new girlfriend.
In Little Wing, we find out what Emily was doing while Matt was caring for their child. As the novel progresses, we gradually come to understand why she felt it necessary to leave her partner and child behind. We can feel more sympathy for her than in the first novel, when she was, for most of the novel, the offstage character who had abandoned Matt to look after their child all by himself.
We learn that Emily has been living in the Blue Mountains outside Sydney, with her gentle hippyish godmother Charlotte, trying to come to terms with her life. In flashback, we follow her through her pregnancy, the decision to give birth despite her parents' pressure to abort and the first few months with Matt and Mahalia. She is gradually healing, with Charlotte's help and the friendship of a kind young stay-at-home father and his little boy. Her friendship with the little boy, Pete, helps prepare her for a relationship with her own child. Like Matt, Emily is too young in many ways to be a parent, which doesn't stop her thinking of herself as a "bad mother." Her relationship with her own parents is not the best, and is one of the problems she must tackle before she feels ready to return to her home and family. Her parents, who feel they have lost her, also need to learn before they are ready to welcome her home.
There are many young adult novels about teen pregnancy and parenthood. They have been around since YA novels have been a separate genre. It's a subject teenagers -- especially girls -- read with great fascination, because it's an issue that could so easily apply to them. It's a common enough thing, goodness knows, and many girls have a friend or a relative or a friend of a friend who has become pregnant.
They tend to be darker than this one and its companion novel (each of which can be read as a stand-alone novel). Usually, the heroine has to deal with the pregnancy alone, because the boyfriend doesn't want to take any responsibility. The author of Little Wing recognizes the fact that the young couple have been a little over-idealistic in thinking they could handle parenthood, and no one suggests that teenagers should rush out and have babies, but on the whole, they have handled it quite well, both of them truly loving their baby and wanting the best for her. Nobody judges them. Neither of them regrets their decision to have the baby.
Girls should enjoy this novel and its companion volume. It is not too long for even a reluctant reader and is fairly easy reading, a novel that can be completed in a day or two by a good reader and perhaps a week by a slower one. The gentleness is an attractive feature of this story. You can have too much tragedy, even if kids often do enjoy gloom in their fiction.
Recommended. | November 2006
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.