The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack – book review

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The fourteenth summer of Angus Jack
Jen Storer
2015
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The story: Angus Jack, fourteen, and his younger sister, Martha, ten, have recently moved to Australia with their father, constantly on the move since their mother’s death a few years ago. It’s summer, school hasn’t started yet, and Angus and Martha don’t know anyone. Their professor father is away all day at work, leaving them to their own devices, which includes making friends with the donut lady, who unsurprisingly sells donuts from her caravan on the beach and observing Reafen, the strange old lady next door who has a shop filled with curiosities. Their holidays are suddenly filled with nosy strangers, goblins from other worlds and a mysterious talisman. It’s hard to know who to trust. They need to work together. Lives are in danger.

The highlights: What I loved about this fantasy story – the highlight for many fantasy books for me – is that Angus and Martha are so real. They argue like any pair of siblings, they annoy each other and then stand up for each other. And because they are so realistic, the background story of Norse mythology and magic becomes believable. Jen Storer gives us this fabulously real set of siblings, arguing at home, alternatively bored and then intrigued, and then once we start to care about them, leads us into the make-believe world of goblin girls and magic boats and frightening mirrors.

It is a book for boys and girls – despite Angus having the title, Martha is the other main character. I love how Angus grows up, being aware of his freckly face and reddish hair, knowing where his skills lie – in drawing – and coming to a greater understanding of his background and strengths.

‘I thought I was imagining it all,’ he said. ‘I thought my imagination was dangerous … that if I paid it too much attention, it would spin out of control and send me mad. It scared me. I hated it.’

And Martha, who is such a feisty, lovable, vulnerable character, comes to peace a little bit more with her mother’s death, and forgives her father for abandoning them and leaving them by themselves.

Lucinda Gifford, the illustrator, has created some wonderful single page pictures and some evocative sketches for the end of each chapter.

For me, it is always the characters who come first – whether I’m reading or writing. I loved Angus and Martha so much because they are realistic kids. But the story with hints of Norse mythology and magic is fast paced and a page turner. Characters to care about and a story that enthralls – this is such a wonderful combination. A good Christmas read for nine to twelve year-olds!

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