A warm, wise book about being stubborn, conquering your fears and learning about the meaning of family
Raf (8) has moved from the city with his mum and dad and his little brother Robbie (5) to go and live on his grandma and grandpa’s farm. Jowi Schmitz endearingly depicts Raf as a boy with a nervous disposition: ‘“Raf is the biggest scaredy-cat in the school,” someone once wrote on the board in our classroom. Cees thought it was particularly funny that I was too scared to wipe it off.’
For a boy like that, big changes are no fun, of course: a new house, a new school, and his mum and dad are arguing too. His dad’s recently lost his job and is doing a course called ‘Know What You Want’, and his mum’s busy with her new job, so Raf and his brother are left in their grandparents’ care. But when Grandma ends up in hospital, they’re on their own and Raf has to be brave, or rather, ‘be scared, but do it anyway’.
The book is calmly built up and written in balanced, evocative language. When the boys are walking towards the woods in the semi-darkness: ‘It’s as if we’re not moving, but the woods are gliding towards us. Like a black wave of needles and tree trunks.’
These authentic characters come to life in a very believable way. From the sporty dad, who’s full of energy but has no direction in life, to the grandfather of very few words, who ‘only smiles inside’, and restless Robbie, who likes to taste the grass wherever he goes and ‘says it tastes green’.
Raf isn’t the only one who grows because of his experiences (he finally overcomes his fears: ‘Like a bird flying away, out of my tummy’). The boys’ mum also realises that she’s not around enough, their dad discovers a new passion, and Grandpa has to accept that he can’t always make things turn out the way he wants them to.
That’s a nicely quirky detail of this book: the old man is building a tower out in the woods so that he and Grandma can climb to the top of it to watch a comet. Her illness throws a spanner in the works, but Grandpa stubbornly persists. This leads to a cinematic highpoint in this warm, wise book about a family.