After a traumatic early life and a subsequent few years from foster home to foster home, Skip has had enough. Even school is no refuge, as even they do not seem to understand or embrace his love of art. So Skip decides to leave his old life behind and ends up living on the streets. Soon he meets an old man, Billy, who lives in similar circumstances. When war breaks out suddenly and unexpectedly, Billy and Skip are forced to leave the city and to take with them orphaned Max. They end up sheltering in a deserted funfair and come across a sad young dancer, Tia, and her baby, who is nameless but soon becomes Sixpence. Together they taken on an everyday fight for survival.
Be prepared to be moved, enchanted, heartbroken and uplifted all at the same time by this wonderfully poignant novel. The story focuses on a group of social misfits thrown together when their country is abruptly torn by war: a boy, damaged beyond repair by years of abuse and foster families; an old man, living on the streets, forever punishing himself for the one mistake that cost him his family; a little boy, left all alone in the world; a teenage girl whose promiscuous life has left her to grow up very quickly; and her baby. A baby who symbolises hope to all in the group, and is the centre of their love and attention. I think what I found most thought-provoking in this beautifully-written novel is that despite the most dire, desperate circumstances, despite the fact that life has dealt these characters a raw deal every step of the way, that they still have to struggle every day for survival, they have hope. Hope that things will improve, hope that somewhere there is something good for them.
Skip is a wonderful character; he is innocent and yet not gullible. His heart is bursting with love for people around him; I thought his relationship with Sixpence was particularly moving. He is a wonderful narrator of this story and also delivers some of the most amazing lines in the book – his matter-of-fact manner brings some sometimes welcome relief to a novel which is highly emotionally charged, such as:
Not many people visit funfairs that don’t work, especially when there’s a war going on.
This is all credit to Glenda Millard’s beautiful way of writing. It is lyrical in an understated way; it stays with you, as does the story. I was most touched by Tia; her sorrow was at times unbearable to me. I felt that her frailty, and yet her strength in finding a safe haven for her daughter were both inspiring and utterly shattering. When I cried while reading this book, I shed tears for Tia and the unspoken terrible things in her past, her inner struggle, her selfless love for her child.
A Small Free Kiss in the Dark is a stunning novel. It is a tale of friendship, of wanting to belong, but also of loss and despair. It can be haunting at times, and is simultaneously uplifting and agonizing. Yet it teaches us that, despite the most appalling circumstances , one should never give up on humankind.
Not to be missed.
Many thanks to Templar for sending me a review copy of this book.
The A Small Free Kiss in the Dark blog tour is starting today and will be stopping here on Friday. Make sure to stop by to find out about Glenda Millard’s Top Five Australian Children’s Books.