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Friday, February 6, 2015

'For the Forest of a Bird' by Sue Saliba

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

A novel about love and the things you can and can't change, from the winner of the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for young adult fiction, Sue Saliba.

'I want to tell you that he's coming home. . . and it's going to be like it was before he went away, before everything broke apart.'

Nella waits for the swallows by the creek each spring. It's a secret vigil she's followed ever since her father left.

This year she's going to take him with her . . . but can we ever return to the way things were?

A novel about love and the things you can and can't change, from the winner of the Victorian's Premier's Literary Award for young adult fiction.

For the Forest of a Bird is the new young adult novel from Australian author, Sue Saliba.

Nella is fifteen and lives in North Fitzroy ‘with its asphalt footpaths and bluestone gutters.’ Ever since her parents divorced, her mother has ‘shrunk smaller and smaller,’ while Nella and her brother Matthew have struggled to cope in their father’s absence.

When tragedy strikes, Nella has an idea to get her father back, but is not prepared for what she finds as the plan unfolds …

‘I must be braver,’ she said. And she stepped away from the bedroom door and thought again of her father. It wasn’t just a sense of safety she felt when she was with him, it wasn’t just a sense of protection. He made her feel brave, that was it. He made her feel courageous. She was like a bird who could take on the stormiest of winds, could soar in the wildest of skies because she knew he was with her, because she knew he would never let her fall.

Sue Saliba is a YA author unlike any other writing today. Her novels play with language and form in such a beautiful way, as anyone who read her 2011 novel Alaska will know. For the Forest of a Bird is told in third-person but still reads like a stream of consciousness, granting readers a tenderly honest portrayal of Nella’s life and private worries. We learn that her mother is mentally ill, and struggles with her illness go some ways to explaining her parent’s divorce – there were issues with her mother not taking medication, police had been called in the past and she’d been in hospital. Her brother Matthew seems to know more about the divorce, and the idea of their father confiding in him over her adds to Nella’s woes.

When Nella travels to Phillip Island, where her father moved after he left (and where author Sue Saliba lives) she discovers the new life he has carved for himself. This aspect of the book reminded me of a beloved John Steinbeck quote; ‘When a child first catches adults out…’ as Nella is forced to confront everything she thought she always knew about her family.

Nella goes through so many emotional upheavals in this novel, but they’re beautifully balanced and grounded by her connection to earthier things. Phillip Island is clearly a source of inspiration for Saliba, and she beautifully describes the surrounds. A scene concerning an injured wallaby is particularly haunting, and it’s in writing about nature – particularly its juxtaposition to Nella’s concrete suburb – that Saliba’s writing glows;

Nella had read that the last of the bandicoots had disappeared from the island years earlier. It made her think of her home in Melbourne, of the cobblestone laneways of North Fitzroy and the thistled banks of the creek where she had sensed the presence of long-gone platypuses, of eagles and owls and the strangest of butterflies, disappearing before they could be named.

Everybody should discover Sue Saliba. Her novels are such special things – they make you think differently and laterally about language and form, her young characters deal with such heavy emotions but are lightened by their connection to nature and family. For the Forest of a Bird is another beautiful outing by this superb Australian author  I loved it, and ate up the words in one afternoon. .


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