Personal History – reviewing ‘The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie’

resized_9781743317020_224_297_FitSquareAll has been quiet on the blog front for a while. I’ve been making some big decisions (leaving nutrition for full time writing and hopefully a creative writing masters), and thinking a lot about the ways that I can push myself to write, read and review better. Plus I’ve been hard at work on the Stella Prize Schools Program which launches in September.

A number of things that I’ve read of late and some of the things I’ve been involved in, have spurred me to think about owning our personal narrative. I don’t think I do that enough, and for quite a long time now I’ve felt a disconnect between the way I see myself, and moments of my life. I struggle sometimes to feel as though I have the ‘right’ to my own story. I’d like to blog about that more, or perhaps turn it into some kind of article once the thoughts have percolated for a bit longer, but in the meantime, I thought I’d touch on personal history and bring the blog up to date with a lovely little book that I’ve just finished.

It’s The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray. It’s a timeslip book, that would fit nicely on a shelf alongside books like Angel Creek by Sally Rippin or When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. In it, Lucy McKenzie is sent to stay with her Great Aunt ‘Big’ over christmas, while her father works. Her mother has flown to Paris to sit with Lucy’s sister Claire, a talented singer who has been put into an induced coma after a serious fall. Lucy is dreading spending christmas alone with her Aunt, a prickly and independent old woman who lives by herself in Avendale, an old house on the river. In Big’s house is a room where a landscape is painted on each of the four walls. Autumn, Summer, Winter, Spring. It is in this room that Lucy first feels the ripples of magic and discovers that she can step through the walls and into Avendale’s past.

This is an emotive book, as Lucy feels keenly her separation from her family as well as the painful sense of being the ‘normal’ one, the youngest in a family full of talent. Next to Big as well, she is awkward and shy. Big is a talented painter, larger than life, frank, honest. She thinks nothing of rinsing the dishes in the outdoor toilet and feels that Lucy should be more assertive. When Lucy steps through the wall she is bolder, braver and happier. She becomes close friends with April, the incorrigible Jimmy, and the steadfast Tom. Her unique knowledge of the future makes her the hero more than once, but each time she leaves, her sudden disappearance and prolonged absence make her more and more of a mystery to the others. For Lucy, leaving makes her anxious. In the present, she is faced with questions. Like what happens to Tom, who is never mentioned by Big, although she must have known him? And why does Jimmy marry Lucy’s own grandmother, even though Lucy can see that April is in love with him? Lucy is determined to save the past, but as she becomes more invested in Avendale’s history, she becomes more invested in its present too, and without even noticing, she starts to find a place where she belongs.

I love books like this. It seems that they are/this is not so obsessed with romantic love. I can hardly talk. My own WIP is about love. My masters proposal focusses on love. I’m obsessed with love, how we fall in and out of it, and the power it holds over us. And yet I remember a time when I wasn’t. I remember climbing hay bales and falling asleep next to the two daughters of our family friends in the lumpy, wooden bed in the draughty spare room in their grandmothers house. I also remember feeling ill-fitting. I remember seeing people, not just sisters although them as well, who fit together with such ease and wondering at why I felt so out of place. The feeling carried through primary school, high school and uni, and in some ways my skin remembers the awkwardness now. But I also remember that it was in books just like this one, with characters like Lucy McKenzie that I finally felt that I had found a place. If not a place for me exactly, at least a place that I could call my own.

This book will be familiar to many. It represents suburban Australia in Lucy, in her longings for home and for the life that she recognises. But it also reflects the outback. The blistering heat of bushfire seasons, the sprawling standalone homesteads and the smell of the river. Lucy is an important character, because she is familiar and her struggles will resonate with the books intended audience.These young readers, many of whom will be starting to face shifting friendships, changing priorities and increased as well as feelings of awkwardness, loneliness and anxiety, will relate strongly to Lucy, and will enjoy watching her journey of self discovery which begins in the past, and sends echoes through to her present. This is a lovely book, yes, but as well as that, is one which through its mirroring of these familiar struggles, has the potential to act as a compass as readers navigate through their own childhoods, giving them confidence to face the challenges that they may be presented with in adolescence.