21 January 2011

3. Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

Another of the Waterstones Book Prize shortlist, Tall Story is a pleasant read with a vaguely exciting ending. Whilst it is a well written young adult novel, it's not one that manages to cross the line into being particularly enjoyable for adults.

The story is about a teenager named Andi who gains a half-brother from the Philippines, Bernardo, who is eight foot tall. The book alternates between Andi and Bernardo's perspectives which lends a nice tone to the novel meaning that it should be enjoyed by boys and girls. Bernardo relates what life was like in his village of San Andreas and his experiences with the village witch and her daughter. The villagers believe that he is the reincarnation of the giant Bernardo Carpio who saved the village from the severe earthquakes hundreds of years ago.

Andi is basketball obsessed and never misses a shot, despite being short. Her new school doesn't have a girls basketball team but when they meet Bernardo they want him on the team immediately even though he can't play.

The book covers Bernardo's life in the Philippines and his move to London and how he comes to fit in in his new life. You can't fault the underlying message of tolerance, acceptance and going after your dreams. The main characters of Andi and Bernardo are also very sympathetic and likeable - Bernardo is loyal, polite and selfless and Andi is confident in her own abilities and caring; all admirable qualities for teenagers to emulate.

It is interesting in its consideration of witchcraft and wish fulfillment - there is the idea that wishes do come true and as the book is not a supernatural book really, i.e. it's set in the real world, I worry about young people reading it and believing that everything will always turn out right in the end. In this book, villages can be saved by giants, illnesses can be cured and girls can play on boys basketball teams with the help of a bit of superstition and a wishing stone.

It is also an interesting look at life in the Philippines, but I'm afraid I am wildly unqualified to comment on how realistic it is.

All in all, I think pleasant probably is the best word for the book. Gourlay struggles to whack up the tension at the climax of the book - it could have done with a bit more suspense. It's well-written with realistic characters (largely) should be enjoyed by younger teenagers. However, compared to When You Reach Me, the other Waterstones shortlisted book I've read so far, it doesn't really measure up to the same standards. The book has been nominated for several awards and has rave reviews on Amazon and I must admit, I feel like I'm missing something.

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