Dunger by Joy Cowley

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Dunger by Joy Cowley

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A clever and welcome, if unsubtle, generation clash, as two siblings have a vacation in the same rural holiday home as their bickering grandparents.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 168 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Gecko Press
ISBN: 9781877579462

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There is nothing worse than two people who constantly argue, like brother and sister Will and Lissy. Well, actually there are – two people who constantly argue and who need hearing aids but carefully ignore that fact, like their grandparents. The siblings are expecting a regular trip away – fancy clothes and fancying boys for her, swotty things for him, but no – the recession means their closest approximation to a summer break is to repair and put right the oldster's bach – summer home, if you like. What's more, they'll be paid for it. But is any amount of money suitable payment for the primitive horrors to come?

This snappy novel has several levels to it, to counter its simplicity and well-meaning heart that it wears very vividly on its sleeve. There's the reason for the constant bickering – neither Will nor Lissy, who alternate chapters in their first person narrative, can see why they constantly are at each other's throats, and both find it ridiculous and alien that their grandparents, after so long married together, do the same. There's the situation they find themselves in – her with no charge in her mobile phone after just one day, him buzzing from being allowed to drive a car but given no encouragement, positive feedback or welcome word.

And there's the side to the book that I won't talk about, for want of leaving it to be discovered. Even though I, as an adult, could see the obvious parallels between the pairs of people and their perpetual pestering, and could see the modernity drop away from the younger two as they just knuckled down and worked (especially Lissy, abandoning ideas of keeping her nails and hands just so for the sake of engaging with the communal spirit of the household), I was not fully prepared for the more emotionally charged last section.

It's not a book that has much in the way of subtlety, all told, so I can't see it winning many re-reads, but it does have character. Bach – a kind of dacha, I guess, and the very title, dunger – meaning something crappy – are just two instances of the character of the piece that travel successfully over the miles and allow the book to be read by anyone over the age of, I'd guess, ten. There is a spirit here that is not just because of its distinct Antipodean twang, but is more concerned with the possibly timely moral, that hard work and tech-free living can be just as satisfying as the life the reader might expect. I read only days ago that, as scientific results have it, people write gloomier literature in the decade following recessions and bad times. This evidently forms part of a response to the recent global economic dip, proof that children's literature can move more quickly than that for adults. But this isn't actually gloomy – it's spirited, warm, intelligent, and while it paints its morals with a broad brush, it at least has sensible and mature messages to impart. I hope it gets a wide audience.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For a very different, and much more British, tale of a young child forced to live with a grandparent, we can recommend A Room Full of Chocolate by Jane Elson.

Buy Dunger by Joy Cowley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dunger by Joy Cowley at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Dunger by Joy Cowley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dunger by Joy Cowley at Amazon.com.


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