Libby Gleeson’s latest book for junior readers is a sophisticated and atmospheric amnesiac mystery revolving around the question: if one day you lost everything, how far would you go to get it all back? When a cyclone tears through Sydney’s eastern suburbs, a girl wakes, alone and covered in mud, with no idea of who she is or what has happened. Amid the chaos, she falls in with Peri, a resourceful boy who takes her in and names her Red. Together they set about finding her real identity and, hopefully, her family. But their search soon draws them into a bigger mystery when they discover Red’s life may have been shattered long before the cyclone hit. Springboarding off the recent wave of global natural disasters (particularly Queensland), Gleeson does a chillingly effective job of destroying all that is familiar and safe. Like Red, the reader is displaced, allowing a space in which to explore these difficult issues of loss, impermanence and homelessness while creating empathy for the other. Beautifully written and conveyed with complex characterisation, Red’s story of resilience, belonging and hope is also a commercial one, driven by the right blend of suspense and intrigue for the 10-plus age group.
Meredith Tate is a freelance proofreader and book reviewer who has worked for a children’s publisher. This review first appeared in the Feb/March issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine.