There’s no question that any novel by Joy Cowley will make you think and suck you in. She’s not only a great story teller but a clever narrative architect. This is a simple tale of a boy whose life is surrounded by chaos. He is visited by a mystery, only he doesn’t comprehend the meaning or the rationale. Not yet, anyway. This book is a classic building of layer upon layer, keeping the tension right through to the end.
Jeff is a boy from a privileged household. But his family are not perfect. His brother is holed up in a Thai prison for drug smuggling. His loving, but promiscuous sister is constantly blurring the lines and pushing the boundaries, despite looking out for her little brother – when it suits her. His father is the archetypal rich dad – grumpy, business-obsessed with a real estate deal that goes foul, and blind to what’s happening in his own world, to his own family. His mother works, if only to escape boredom of a rich captive lifestyle.
Jeff can’t rely on anything – except mathematics. Numerology and mathematics are the only truths he knows. This interplays with a mysterious woman who appears in his garden during a storm. She appears again and again, and passes on strange messages, indicating that she is not who she appears to be. Everyone else passes her off as a strange deluded old lady but Jeff is not so sure. Is she an angel? Or something else?
Cowley’s interplay between the false façade of adult authority and a child’s interpretation of reality is imminent here. It’s wonderful to see how, as the story plays out, the adults all fall over each other as the main character, Jeff, remains true to himself to pull it all together. It’s a story that will appeal to boys who don’t necessarily want to blow everything up. Perhaps they might want to spend some time dealing with the complications of growing up without the puberty blues. In many ways this tale is very real and ordinary. To me, that gave it more authenticity. I also enjoyed the bus trips and walks that Jeff took around the city of my childhood, Wellington. I particularly enjoyed the tiny insignificant details that carry the story along. It’s a delightful, understated story.
Underlying the story is the moral theme of hope, which we need when adults are too obsessed with themselves to understand their children. It’s not an original theme but its one worth revisiting. If boys, who notoriously shun any emotive, sensitive literature can be encouraged to pick up this book, then there is some hope of getting through and perhaps changing a destiny or two. Let’s make that happen.
Speed of Light will be launched at the Children’s Bookshop Kilbirnie on Thursday 14 August. To attend, RSVP to matariki@by the end of Tuesday 12 August.