The Sandfather by Linda Newbery

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The Sandfather by Linda Newbery

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A wonderful story about a boy searching for some grounding and doing a lot of growing up along the way. Subtle, absorbing, and compelling, it's just what you'd expect from Newbery. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: February 2009
Publisher: Orion
ISBN: 1842555480

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Hal struggles with aggression. He has a terrible temper, and it only takes a little bit of sustained mockery - the especial talent of teenagers everywhere - and he sees red, erupting in violence. His mother can't understand it. She never sees this side of her Prince Hal. He's loving and well-behaved at home. She doesn't realise the root cause lies in her failure to give Hal some background. Hal doesn't know his father - worse still, he doesn't even know who his father is. And this leaves him vulnerable to digs and allusions by his less sensitive friends. By the same token, Hal doesn't give much thought to why his mother is holding back; he simply resents it.

The final straw comes when Hal is suspended from school for fighting. His mother's about to go into hospital for an operation, and so Hal is packed off to to stay with an aunt he's never met, at the seaside home of his estranged grandfather. Here, Hal suddenly finds his missing father everywhere: in his dreams; in the sand sculptures he makes on the beach; even in likely candidates walking down the street.

My favourite aspect of Linda Newbery's novels is the way in which she incorporates psychological and sometimes quasi-supernatural states into the narrative, but then grounds them in the bread and butter of everyday situations and relationships. We all know the myth that poltergeists are attracted to adolescents, and we also know that poltergeists don't really exist. We're dimly aware too that adolescence is a time of heightened emotions and mood swings, but we often fail to connect these things. Newbery always does that. Her characters struggle to contain situations and feelings that are more intense than their level of maturity can easily manage and so it's no wonder they erupt into bad behaviour, or attribute emotional landscapes in spiritual or supernatural ways.

We see this here in Hal, who is having great trouble growing up successfully, largely because he feels rootless. He loves his mother, but it isn't quite enough for him and he believes if he can only find his father, he'll feel complete. And of course, it just isn't as simple as that. It's his rite of passage to learn that, just as it's his mother's rite of passage to take a risk, open up a little, and help him along his way. And in his new surroundings, with new people to care about, it's made easier for Hal. As his world gets a bit bigger, so does his understanding of it.

It's a lovely kitchen sink drama, easy to read, but with the level of underlying sophistication you only find in the best of writers. Readers from about ten to fourteen will absolutely love it.

My thanks to the nice people at Orion for sending the book.

They might also enjoy From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma or The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen.

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