The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain by Julie Lamb.
Eastbourne, Wellington: Submarine imprint, Mākaro Press (2016).
Reviewed by Anna Smith.
First-time author Julie Lamb takes that wonderful word ‘discombobulated’ for a walk. Her story is well told and her protagonist, Summer Rain, makes for an engaged character who truly does behave as if she is on extra adrenalin (or as an earlier generation might say, ‘running around like a chook with its head cut off’). As it happens, there is a mystery of collecting scraps for chickens who don’t exist and the image of a cheeky chicken wandering through the pages of this book, but the real attention is on the challenges that attend Summer’s growing out of childhood. ‘Thing is,’ she admits, ‘I really want to stop being an idiot. I’m sick of feeling like an imposter – hanging with the guys because I don’t know how to act like a girl; sounding like a seventy-year-old pensioner instead of a twelve-year-old schoolgirl because of spending too much time with my pop’ (p 12). A confession which goes some way towards excusing her constant use of slang, culled from an improbably wide range of registers. Both inventive and predictable by turns, the author’s decision to freight Summer’s conversation with colourful, slightly old-fashioned speech is for the most part, a successful one. It allows us to know the protagonist better and participate vicariously in her adventures.
We follow her growing resentment at her grandfather’s cranky schemes to save money at the Dock’n’Thistle where she stays with him during the week so she can attend school; and laugh when she inadvertently launches a school craze for recycled granny-shoppers. Together with a new and sophisticated friend Juanita, Summer ‘comes out’ as a girl, learning that first impressions aren’t always right and that even her beloved grandfather is not quite the sucker she takes him for. Additional colour comes from Summer’s hippy grandmother Flora who runs the Body and Soul store and practises folk magic on the side. Thankfully however, without the help of any enchanted potion, Pop staves off the intentions of elderly gold-digger Mrs Macy and Summer’s father begins to realise that his daughter is growing up. The fact that Mrs Shriver jnr. abandoned them years ago stings less by the time the story ends because home is the place where steady affection beats town plumbing and Beef Wellington any day. Younger (female) readers of ten and upwards could enjoy The Discombobulated Life of Summer Rain.
Dr. Anna Smith teaches mostly children’s and young adult literature in the English programme at the University of Canterbury. She has written on New Zealand artists and writers as well as publishing short stories and a work of fiction.
First published takahe 87