Title: My Life as an Alphabet
Author: Barry Jonsberg
Publisher: Allen and Unwin 2013
Winner: The Gold Inky 2013, Children’s Peace Prize 2013, Victorian Premier’s Award for YA Fiction 2013, Territory Read Award 2014
Short-list NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2014
Short-list Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year: Younger Readers
Short-list Koala Awards 2014
Summary: Introducing Candice Phee: twelve years old, hilariously honest and a little … odd. But she has a big heart, the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to ensure everyone is happy. So she sets about trying to ‘fix’ all the problems of all the people (and pets) in her life. Laugh-out-loud funny and wonderfully touching, My Life as an Alphabet is a delightful novel about an unusual girl who goes to great lengths to bring love and laughter into the lives of everyone she cares about.
My Review: Wow! I loved this book – honestly. Anyone who is looking for an unputdownable read then pick this book up. It was funny and heartfelt and dealt with the serious issues of cot death, cancer, family estrangement and sloppy first kisses – all through the eyes of the odd Candice Phee whose optimism and outlook on life was so unique and wonderful to read.
The book begins when Candice is given a school assignment by her lazy-eyed favourite teacher to write one paragraph about themselves starting with each letter of the alphabet. Well, Candice has way too much to say and needs to do a full chapter with each letter – and I’m glad she did.
‘This isn’t just about me. It’s also about the other people in my life – my mother, my father, my dead sister Sky, my penpal Denille, Rich Uncle Brian, Earth-Pig Fish and Douglas Benson From Another Dimension. These are people [with the exception of Earth-Pig Fish, who is a fish] who have shaped me, made me what I am. I cannot recount my life without recounting elements of theirs. This is a big task, but I am confident I am up to it.’
In the process of writing her ‘life as an alphabet’ Candice sets about trying to fix everyone’s problems – her mothers depression, her dad’s career, the strained relationship between Rich Uncle Brian and her dad, the religious dilemma of Earth-Pig Fish, Miss Bamford’s lazy eye problem (her solution is hilarious) and keeping an eye on Douglas Benson From Another Dimension, her only friend, to make sure he doesn’t come to any harm while trying to get back to his real world – which as you might of guessed – is in another dimension.
What Candice wants most of all though is for her family to interact again – Mum spends most of her time in bed, Dad hides in the garage designing computer programs and Candice wants them back – and back to how things were before Sky died – ‘that was the start of when things fell apart’.
I absolutely loved this interaction below between Candace and her father – it showed exactly how insightful and special Candice is with her amazing way of viewing the world.
To set the scene…. Dad is flying his model plane and he is trying to talk to Candice about why she approached a solicitor to divorce them. She doesn’t want to talk about it – and this is conversation that follows.
‘Dad?’ I said. ‘Why do you have to watch the plane all the time?’
‘I would have thought that was obvious, Candice. If I don’t, I will lose control and it will crash.’
‘Isn’t that the same with families?’ I asked.
He looked at me when I said that. The plane made a strange whining noise. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it catch a branch of a tree. There was a distant crump and small pieces of plastic and leaves floated, gently, delicately, to the ground.
This is one of my favourites books so far this year – it wouldn’t surprise me to see it win the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Younger Readers.
My Review: 4.5 stars
Author Bio: Barry Jonsberg’s young adult novels, The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull and It’s Not All About YOU, Calma! were short-listed for the CBCA Book of the Year, Older Readers, awards. It’s Not All About YOU, Calma! also won the Adelaide Festival Award for Children’s Literature, Dreamrider was short-listed in the NSW Premier’s Awards for the Ethel Turner prize and Cassie (Girlfriend Fiction) was short-listed for the Children’s Peace Literature Award. Being Here won the QLD Premier’s Young Adult Book Award 2011 and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Award 2012. My Life as an Alphabet won the 2013 Gold Inky, the Children’s Peace Literature Award and was short-listed in the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and the 2014 Adelaide Festival Awards.
Barry lives in Darwin with his wife, children and two dogs. His books have been published in the US, the UK, France, Poland, Germany and China.
For more information about Barry and his many books click here for his website.