The Silent Kookaburra takes place in a time period that I know well from my own childhood - the 1970's - but the geographical setting in Australia is far removed from the one I knew in the south east of England. Nevertheless, I recognised the attitudes and lifestyles of many of the characters in the novel - the almost unlimited freedom that children were given when they went out to play, even without mobile phones to keep tabs on them, and the more traditional roles that men and women still had - dad working or off down the pub while mum kept house or got a little part time job, more as a novelty or hobby than as a real source of income.
Back then, in the seventies and eighties of my youth, there was no internet and grooming someone meant smearing glittery pink eyeshadow all over their eyelids and backcombing their hair to within an inch of its life. Nevertheless, despite looking back with rose-tinted spectacles and thinking that today's generation of kids face new evils that we never had to deal with, I still remember stories on TV or even dodgy word-of-mouth tales of local perverts that were shared as urban legends but quite possibly were ingrained in truth.
The main character in the story is eleven-year-old Tanya Randall, a typical tween who is growing into a new body she no longer feels comfortable with, frequently gets a hard time from the school bullies and feels a bit lonely with her parents going through the private grief of not being able to conceive. When Shelley, the miracle baby, finally arrives, she should be the answer to all of their prayers - a bundle of joy for the whole family to pour their love into and a soon-to-be new playmate for Tanya. However, in a cruel twist of fate, she ends up being a very colicky baby who cries constantly and pushes the family to breaking point. Then the unthinkable happens and life will never be the same for any of them ever again.
In this backdrop of family trauma and misery, a new uncle puts in an appearance - one that wants to be Tanya's secret friend because her dad and nanna wouldn't want him to be around. A very special friend, with benefits (all his), who promises to take photos of her that will allow her to be a model. As a parent, it's so easy to see through his sweet-talking and warped desires, but he is so manipulative that he soon has Tanya exactly where he wants her.
The reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride of emotions, feeling sorry for and intensely protective of the unsuspecting and innocent Tanya, blisteringly angry at the predatory Uncle Blackie, full of contempt for the parents who don't even notice the danger their own child is in, but also pity for their personal tragedies. Then there is the straight-talking Nanna Purvis, always there to offer some words of wisdom and a bit of light relief from all the drama.
It's an enthralling and harrowing story, set against a backdrop of social change in 1970's Australia, but which could (sadly) take place anytime and anywhere.
Prior to this novel, I have also reviewed the three novels from Liza Perrat's Bone Angel historical fiction series : Spirit of Lost Angels, Wolfsangel, Blood Rose Angel. Click through to read those reviews.
star rating : 4.5/5
Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.