Charlie (Charlotte) Duskin, 16, has been going with her father every vacation to stay in the country outside Melbourne, Australia with her grandparents, but this will be their first Christmas there since Charlie’s grandmother died seven months earlier.
Charlie doesn’t have any friends there; although the kids who live near her grandparents’ are around her age – Rose Butler and her two close buddies, Dave and Luke – they have never wanted anything to do with Charlie. Suddenly this year, Rose, clearly the leader of the three, seems almost to be courting Charlie as a friend. Since Rose and Luke are together, Charlie is thrown in with Dave, and she likes him a lot. But she discovers that Rose’s motivations for friendship with her are not without guile. Rose is full of anger and ambition and wanting, and maybe Charlie could be her ticket out of the countryside. Rose hasn’t told Luke and Dave why now she always wants to include Charlie, but the truth is bound to come out. And when it does, Charlie thinks Luke and Dave are in on it as well.
This isn’t the only big problem Charlie faces. Her grandpa and father are both suffering emotionally, and can’t seem to find a way out of the darkness. Charlie feels like she is alone, even though she is hurting too, and could use some love and attention in her life.
Charlie plays guitar and composes songs, mostly just for herself. This is the means by which she vents her emotions, especially her anger, hurts, and fears. She sings to the ghosts of loved ones who died:
“She’s lost in catacomb days.
She wonders if she’ll come back
If no one shows her how
And the ghost looks out the window
I’d die for
Taste of cake and bread and wine
Those little sugar biscuits
With real chunks of lemon rind
I’m aching for the day when I was blood
Aching for some hands to rain some skin
across my skin
Aching for that moment when I let a
Aching just to want again.
… Maybe one day
For now she’s lost in catacomb days.”
Maybe her music is the way to break through to everyone. Maybe the beauty and truth and love that come out in her songs will bring everyone out of their own private catacombs and back into the light.
Evaluation: Cath Crowley is an exceptional writer. She excels at mapping the emotional landscape of teens, and telling their stories with sensitivity and humor. This is a story that would be bleak in the hands of another author, but with Crowley it is touching, hopeful, and an absorbing exploration of the different love that characterizes families, friends, and romances.
Published in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., 2010