Children's fiction

25th February 2000 at 00:00
BAT. By Sarah Withrow. Bloomsbury pound;5.99. TWO MOONS. By Martha Brooks. Bloomsbury pound;5.99.

Sarah Withrow's first novel for children won a prize when it was published in Canada in 1998. It's available here now, and it's not to be missed.

Terence, alone for the summer when his best friend goes off to camp, meets Lucy, the "Bat" of the title. She is an amazing creation: strange, funny, touching and very intelligent.

The growing friendship between these two is the subject of the book, but it also encompasses Terence's own struggles to balance conflicting loyalties, Lucy's family circumstances, and how the two of them fit into society. Lucy is convinced she is a bat, and Terence joins her imaginary world. Then Lucy gets headlice, and one thing leads to another.

The story is told by Terence in the first person and the present tense. The style is plain and moving, and leaves metaphorical spaces between words for the poetry to shine through. Withrow manages in a very short book to bring before us not only Terence and Lucy, but also a host of minor caracters and the city of Toronto. It's a novel that will stay in the mind long after you've finished it.

Two Moons is set in 1959, which makes it, one supposes, an historical novel. Published in Canada nearly 10 years ago, it's hard to see why it's taken so long to reach us.

The story is an old-fashioned one about two sisters, Sidonie (the narrator) and Bobbi. Their mother has died after a long illness and the girls are trying to come to terms with her mother's death, about which Bobbi in particular feels guilty.

The plot is not one that ought to be revealed, although the lake in Bison Valley where they live plays an important part. In any case, the pleasure of this book comes from its attention to detail, its exact conjuring-up of a place and a time, and the complex network of relationships it explores. Above all, it's a story about different kinds of love.

Whoever it is at Bloomsbury finding these transatlantic treasures, they deserve our thanks. It's a real treat to enter these exciting new fictional worlds.


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