Monthly Archives: February 2014

Seeing Red

Kathryn Erskine



February 2014



These are the songs that Kathryn Erskine listened to while writing this marvellous novel. They form the Seeing Red ‘playlist’ and several of them are mentioned in the story:

  • RESPECT, Aretha Franklin
  • BLACK & WHITE, Three Dog Night
  • I’LL BE THERE, Jackson 5
  • STAND BY ME, Ben E. King
  • I AM WOMAN, Helen Reddy
  • Theme from M*A*S*H
  • WAR, Edwin Starr
  • I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW, Johnny Nash
  • Theme from KUNG FU
  • LEAN ON ME, Bill Withers
  • O-O-H, CHILD, The Five Stairsteps
  • MY GIRL, The Temptations
  • CRACKLIN’ ROSIE, Neil Diamond
  • WHAT’S GOING ON, Marvin Gaye

Erskine was born in the Netherlands and spent her childhood in Israel, South Africa and Scotland. But she has lived in the US state of Virginia, where this novel is set, for most of her adult life.
Is it a cop-out for a reviewer to let the author herself summarise her book? I don’t know, but it seems rather silly to try to do this better than the writer herself, who recently contributed a guest post (‘The Importance Of Story’) on the FCBG blog, and described Seeing Red thus:

In Seeing Red, a story set in the post-Civil Rights era in the United States, young Red Porter gradually pieces together his community’s role in racism from a map, a scrap of paper, a grave marker, a Bible, a teacher and an elderly friend. This African-American friend, Miss Georgia, is able to tell Red how her grandfather was killed and their land taken away — a practice not uncommon after the U.S. Civil War — but even she doesn’t know all the details. As Red keeps digging, he resolves to reveal the killer and see that Miss Georgia’s land is returned. He’s determined to do as the sign above his family’s repair shop says: “Porter’s: We Fix It Right!”

Seeing Red is not just a story but has stories within stories. There are memories of his father that help shape Red and guide him now. There are real life stories of America’s past, like Emmett Till, Rosenwald schools, Massive Resistance. Those stories are an important part of our present and future because they’re what brought us to where we are now. The past doesn’t dictate our future but it’s up to us to respond to it and forge a new path.

The importance of story telling in Seeing Red, like many books, is to allow readers to think and feel. In this case, it’s to prevent history from repeating itself with other distinct groups in other parts of the world, and even specifically with African Americans in the United States, where the country may look very different from its 1970’s self but still has room to progress.

Yes, this book is unashamedly didactic. It sets out not just to move the reader, but to inform and educate. I normally dislike the inclusion of extra baggage at the end of a novel, but here the Author’s Note and suggested list of Discussion Questions will be welcomed by teachers who decide to use the book in guided reading sessions – it is particularly recommended for Years 5 to 8 (10-13 year olds).
But above all it is a totally convincing immersive read that can be enjoyed on an individual level from age 10 up to adult.
Every character featured in the story is vividly drawn and for all its attention to universal values the whole action is played out in a tightly localised setting of car repair shop, schoolhouse, church and various close neighbours. More dialogue-driven than many first-person voice novels, Seeing Red is eminently adaptable for stage or film.
I still have the pleasure of reading this author’s previous novels ahead of me, including the award-winning Mockingbird, and that’s good to know. If there’s any justice, Seeing Red will win awards too, and result in a significant increase in UK awareness of Kathryn Erskine and her work.



Libby Gleeson



February 2014



A taut and gripping thriller from the award-winning Australian author, Libby Gleeson. [The book was first published in Australia in 2012, where it won the 2013 Australian Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Children’s Fiction.]
It opens in the aftermath of a cyclonic storm that has wreaked havoc on Sydney. A young girl comes back to consciousness smothered in mud.

Mud. In her mouth, her nose and eyes. Mud in her hair and caked on her neck and her arms. Mud filling her shoes and seeping through her clothes.

She can remember little from her past. A boy called Peri befriends her and piece by piece helps her regain some recollection of her past. Things start to become clearer when she sees a photo in the ruins of her old primary school.
She was mumbling “jaymartinjaymartin” as she regained consciousness and this mantra gains in significance as the story unfolds and Red has to attempt to deliver a memory stick storing highly sensitive information about organised crime to the Supreme Court in Melbourne.
I have to say it’s a pleasure to read a novel told in what, until recently (with the prevalent use in YA novels of the continuous present voice), has been the conventional 3rd person past.
This isn’t a novel that is going to change your life. But it will entertain and thrill you. Not a word has been wasted in the telling.
In short, highly recommended.