Candy Gourlay
(David Fickling Books)

Andi is short, very short, but she loves basketball and has finally made it into her school’s team as point guard. But unfortunately, her mother too has good news: the house they have been trying to buy to leave their shoebox of a flat is suddenly theirs and they have to move straight away, forcing Andi to move schools and leave her dream behind. The other upheaval in her life is that Bernardo, her half-brother, has finally been granted UK residency and is on his way from the Philippines to come and live with them. Andi is desperate to see him at last and hopes he will be as mad on basketball as she is. But why does her mother keep going on about his height? It all becomes clear as he stepped through the Arrivals gate at the airport. Bernardo is a giant, and his arrival, although eagerly awaited, brings all sorts of complications to Andi’s life.

When the opening few sentences of a book are:

Rush hour. So many armpits, so little deodorant.
You know you are on to a good thing!
(I think Candy made badges with that phrase on, if I am not mistaken!)

This neat little volume is perfectly formed in shape (lovely design from David Fickling books, as ever) and in content. Written in two voices, Andi’s and Bernardo’s, it reads very easily and very quickly, and this is a credit to Candy Gourlay’s talent as a storyteller. Her writing is witty, quirky and hugely enjoyable. If you have ever read, her blog, Notes from the Slushpile, this will not be news to you. I laughed out loud for example at this exchange between Andi and her mother:
‘Filipinos are the most hospitable people in the word.’‘But I’m English.’
‘You’re half Filipino’
This resonates so true to me, as I often have this exact conversation with my own children!

What I particularly liked about this book, beyond the talented writing, is Candy’s ability to mix many different themes; it covers witchcraft and curses, mythical stories of giants protecting the land from earthquakes, gigantism (a very real condition), as well very contemporary themes of poverty,  immigration and integration, sibling relationships, and cultural identity and differences. It shouldn’t really work, and yet they cohabit perfectly!
I thought Bernardo’s flashbacks to his younger years were particularly well crafted and touching. The analogy between his fits and him thinking he is carrying the weight of the Earth was one of the things that most touched me in the story, translating Bernardo’s feelings for his community and his guilt about leaving them. It is a bittersweet story about being careful what you wish for, and whether it makes laugh, cry, or both, or even neither, it certainly won’t leave you unmoved. Candy Gourlay is great new and original voice in children’s literature and I very much look forward to seeing what she has in store for us next.