Friday, February 25, 2011

review : angel creek

Angel Creek, Sally Rippin (Text Publishing)

On Christmas Eve, Jelly and her cousins Gino and little Pik find a baby angel with an injured wing in a storm water drain down at the Merri Creek*. Not a cute cherubic angel in a gown that you might see in religious paintings, but a feral scrap of a thing – a tiny ferocious angel-child in a tattered dress, with wings something like a pelican. They decide to hide the angel in the toolshed at the local primary school (closed for the summer) and help fix its wing – keeping it a secret from their parents, as well as the aggressive high school boys on bikes that threaten Jelly.

Like a freshly hatched duckling who thinks the first thing it sees is its mama, the angel attaches itself quite viciously to Jelly and will only respond to her – which makes Gino jealous. Pik doesn’t quite understand the secret and tells people about the angel, but they just say “isn’t that lovely” and tell the angry Jelly and Gino that if Pik wants to believe in angels then he is allowed to.

Jelly doesn’t seem to notice her (sometimes offhand and selfish) wishes coming true, in ways she would have never consciously intended – such as when she wishes something would happen to keep Gino and Pik from leaving – The angel stirred and a shiver passed through it like the faintest breeze – and Nonna gets sick and is taken to hospital.

Angel Creek is a really beautiful exploration of a time of change for a young person – Jelly has had to move house and is facing her first year at high school when the summer is over. There's the story of the boy who drowned down the creek, the understanding that Nonnas won't live forever and those butterflies when maybe, just maybe, you've got your first crush on a boy. All these extra flourishes give Jelly's story that little extra oomph. Exquisitely written, and exploring the loss of innocence, kindness, kinship and a certain kind of faith, this book is fantastical (but not fantasy, it’s firmly rooted in reality), effortlessly metaphorical and a little bit magic.

*The kids were not supposed to be down at the creek, but it was a too fascinating and exciting place not to explore. This is true. I live near there. It's scary and smelly and awesome.


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