Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Mr Nobody by Natalie Gordon. £6.99
"There's no way that I'm ever sharing my room with her." Lou - she's thirteen - is prepared to say it straight. The scene is a family conference. Gran is coming to stay. She's old. Suddenly she's too old to look after herself and she has to come to stay in their house. Katie is nine. She must move in, share a bedroom with her elder sister.
"Look at her. She's a baby. I'm not sharing with her," says Lou.
"You come back here and apologise to your sister. It's not all about you."
Dad is a school teacher with schoolteacher stares and mum is a nurse. The scene is set for the story of a middle class family facing a middle class dilemma.
Katie has a nine-year-old's problems. Things would have to be packed up. She wouldn't have her own room. She felt like "a bit of left-over pastry". The cuddlies were her greatest problem. Should she take all of them, or just a few. She would take the ones that still lived on her bed. "I felt bad about the rest. I couldn't look at them, so I covered them over with some old dressing up clothes."
When Lou comes into her room, the room she will have to share, she is brutal. Gran's not going to get better. "It means you'll get your ro om back when she's dead . . . And when they've taken her body away you can have your bed back . . . In the room of death."
Even as Lisa is helping her to move out of her house, Vera, Katie's Gran, is forgetful, confused.
Gran came in. "I let her squeeze me. She smelt like pale roses, which wasn't too bad really." But she called Katie, Lou, and she thought she'd left her glasses in the other room.
When Katie is left alone in the house with her gran, she thinks they might make a cake. As the mixture goes in the microwave, gran wanders off down the road in her slippers. Katie runs after her to being her back. She is embarrassed when two friends see her struggling with her gran and when they rush back, there is a smell of burning.
It is episodes such as this, told tightly from Katie's point of view, which move the story forward, show the growth of Katie's relationship with her gran and her developing understanding of wht is happening.
But there is also another voice. From time to time, Vera describes her confused world. Left alone in a house locked for her own safety, she is desperate to escape. She shouts down a silent phone. "She sat down at the dining table, clutching the phone, crying."
Mr Nobody is speaking to gran, warning her about her daughter. Her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, disturbed. The house is tense, Katie's mother and father seem at odds with one another. Katie draws a picture of her gran throwing a vase at her mother. "Behind her was Mr. Nobody and he was holding her throwing arm, like he was helping her. I hated both of them."
This is a brave story to write for a nine-year old. Natalie Gordon, who lives in Cumbria, has found a way of dealing with a world which is often hidden from children. She speaks with Katie's voice and has an uncanny knack of seeing things from her point of view, sensing the confusion around her, feeling cut-off from the adult world, over-reacting to little things and seeking comfort in the familiar.
It is a realistic story, far removed from many childhood fantasies, but it is told with a sympathy and insight which, I imagine, will hold the attention of younger readers.
Natalie found she had to publish this story herself even though she was long-listed for The Times/ Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition.