by Justin D'Ath
Published by Ford Street Publishing
188 pages, 2007
When Miracles Happen
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
New Lourdes in Victoria, Australia, has been a site for pilgrimage for the last several years since a healing miracle happened at the local swimming pool -- which has also, miraculously, started sloping and become known as the Eighth Wonder of the World. In fact, things have gone well enough to change the town’s name to New Lourdes, from its original name of Loddon Springs. The tourist industry is going very nicely, thank you, and the pool is selling a range of religious goods to the pilgrims.
At this point, the story could have gone the humor route, but it doesn’t. Wolfgang Mulqueen, a teenager with family and personal problems, has a summer job at the pool, where he meets Audrey, a blind girl whose father asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend. Audrey has no friends at all, but she is intelligent and attractive in her way and Wolfgang soon cares about her for herself and worries about her when she goes out to the local cemetery late at night. Audrey claims to be nocturnal, which is why she is not much use during the day. This is only one mystery about her, and Wolfgang works frantically to solve another before disaster happens.
Meanwhile, black butterflies begin to appear in New Lourdes, fascinating Wolfgang, who is a butterfly collector. He has never seen this kind before. What are these butterflies? Where do they come from? And why do they keep disappearing when he has them pinned down, including one he sent to a famous butterfly expert? Are they perhaps connected, in some way with the mystery of Audrey and with what happened to the swimming pool?
It’s not possible to tell you more without giving away the ending of Pool, but the mystery is resolved, if tragically, and Wolfgang finds out more about himself and develops a closer relationship with his own family as a result of what he has been doing.
It becomes fairly clear, about halfway through, that there is no way this story is going to have a happy ending -- not a standard one, anyway. This will probably appeal to teenage readers, many of whom prefer their fiction to be depressing. What happens is sad, but it’s implied that the ending is the result of what actually happened many years ago and things are just going back to the way they would have been if there hadn’t been interference.
Justin D’Ath is a multi-skilled Australian writer who has done a large variety of fiction. He is probably best known for his humorous fantasy tales for younger readers, but has also done much more serious stuff for young adults. A number of years ago, he wrote a powerful and gripping drama for older teenagers, Hunters and Warriors, based on a true story about a group of boys who did something nasty to wildlife while on a school camp; it wasn’t even remotely fantastical, but grimly realistic. With Pool, he goes back to the fantasy, though it’s not humorous and definitely not intended for younger readers. Like Hunters and Warriors, it’s centred around a boy who doesn’t have a lot of friends, apart from some not-very-pleasant characters, but is, himself, basically sound.
Longtime fans of Justin D’Ath, who have grown up with his books, should enjoy this one, and new readers will be happy to discover him. | February 2008
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.