Review of ‘As Happy as Here’
In my humble opinion, Jane Godwin is one of the heroes of the kidlit world in Australia. A former publisher (responsible for the wonderful ‘Our Australian Girls’ series no less), Jane has also written over twenty five books ranging from picture books to YA. She mentors authors, works with young people in schools and is passionate about quality reading and writing experiences for our young people. Her latest novel is ‘As Happy as Here’ and it’s one for your must-read list.
Title: ‘As Happy as Here’
Author: Jane Godwin
Age Range: upper primary, middle grade, 10+
Themes: hospitals, illness, leukemia, identity, difference, coming of age, social justice, compassion, kindness, empathy, courage, friendship, crime. mystery.
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Evie would never have met Lucy and Jemma if the accident that now threatens her sporting career hadn’t happened. But they have all wound up in a hospital ward together – a place where there is no choice in who your companions will be and where the pace of life slows right down. The three girls are initially cautious of each other, and hyper aware of their different personalities and family backgrounds, as so many tweens and teens are. But when Evie, Lucy and Jemma witness a crime in the park below their window, they set about solving the mystery together. The experience will change each of them forever, and force Evie to confront what it means to grow up, and how to live truly, with courage, as yourself.
As always, Jane nails the authentic voice of each of her characters and tween and teen readers will recognize characteristics of Evie, Jemma and Lucy in both themselves and in their peers. Evie has had a relatively privileged existence and is teetering on the very edge of childhood, about to slip into the teen years. Jemma is not much older and while her tough life experiences make her vastly more worldly, she is also incredibly vulnerable. Lucy is quietness and calm personified, but with an underlying strength. The supporting cast of family, other patients, nurses and hospital staff and a group of minor crims are all as vividly and sensitively drawn.
As the story unfolds, the girls navigate the complexities of a friendship based on little more than circumstance, until the crime they witnessed bonds them more tightly and they hurtle forwards with teen naivety to a heartbreaking climax.
‘As Happy as Here’ has it all – mystery, family, friendship, real life drama with devastating consequences…and kindness, empathy and compassion in spades.
‘We just have to be here, as happy as here, and do our best to deal with whatever comes along.’
Jane Godwin has written about the story behind ‘As Happy as Here’ ‘ on her website here. Want a fun fact? Of course you do! Jane Godwin is the mother of Wil Wagner, the incredibly excellent frontman of incredibly excellent, The Smith Street Band. The title ‘As Happy as Here’ is a line from The Smith Street Band song ‘Something I Can Hold in My Hands’. Clearly creative talent runs in the family.