How To Spell Catastrophe


I already knew that Fiona Wood was an author of superb young adult fiction (see Cloudwish, Six Impossible Things, Wildlife etc) and a really lovely human being (she once sought me out in an airport to invite me to sit with her in the Qantas lounge), but it turns out she can also write superlative novels for middle grade, too. * shakes fist at the sky* Damn you, Fiona Wood! Is there anything you can't do??

How To Spell Catastrophe is smart, warm, funny, subtle children's literature. Nell is in her final year of primary, that complicated time, half itching to move forward into the big new world of high school and the future, half clinging to the safety of the familiar, as she's torn between her old friends and the excitement of lawless new girl Plum. Nell's family is changing, too, when her mum proposes melding their cosy dyad with her boyfriend Ted and his younger daughter Amelia -- an idea which horrifies Nell. To cap it all off, Nell is a worrier, and jots down plans for dealing with any and all possible emergency situations. (I liked the way Nell's therapy sessions are discussed with a matter-of-fact lack of drama, as just another part of her life.) But climate change is such a big worry that it won't even fit into Nell's notebook --

There is so much to love about this book. Wood's writing is top notch, as you'd expect, and she is especially good on the dynamics of friendships. In a lesser novel, Plum might be a 'bad' person -- and she is problematic, encouraging Nell into reckless and irresponsible behaviour, being a bit mean sometimes -- but in Wood's hands the reader sees that Plum has her own issues to deal with, and perhaps what she really needs is a stable, cautious friend like Nell. Change is scary, and How To Spell Catastrophe handles the need to balance courage, careful planning, boldness and prudence in a really beautiful way.

(Ironically I managed to misspell 'catastrophe' twice while writing this post.)

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