Ten a Penny
Mirjam Oldenhave is not just a popular children’s author – she’s also a foster parent. This was how she came to meet Cynthia van Eck (17), an orphan whose heartrending life story she relates in Voor jou tien anderen. Using a minimum of words and carefully selected episodes, she transforms the events to create a gripping narrative that operates on different levels. It’s a tragicomedy that touches the heart.
Cynthia begins her story with the bare facts: “There were three bedrooms in the flat: one for Mama Riet, one for her daughter Mia and one for her foster children […] When people brought a child to her, Mama Riet always said yes, as she had a big heart. But she also had a small flat, so the floor of the third bedroom was covered with mattresses and airbeds.” The deep tragedy of Cynthia’s situation only gradually dawns on the reader.
Poverty-stricken Mama Riet is completely incapable as a foster parent: no school, dry bread for dinner, the television test card for entertainment and threats of a child molester when the children quarrel.
The realisation that these children view their situation as normal and are “perfectly happy” with Mama Riet is a painful jolt for the reader, as is Cynthia’s anguish when the child welfare organisation intervenes and Mama Riet declares that children like Cynthia are “ten a penny”. Cynthia’s story then develops into a quest for love and self-confidence. Oldenhave’s talent for writing ensures that this quest is a very moving one.
Voor jou tien anderen by Oldenhave is the second book in Querido’s extraordinary new Slash series: YA novels that are based on the true, remarkable life stories of young people, written with the aim of introducing more realistic social issues into books for young Dutch readers and, hopefully, enticing more adolescents to read. Oldenhave has accomplished this task with great success.