Mikki and Me and the Out of Tune Tree – Marion Roberts
(Allen & Unwin, $18.99)
reviewed by Louise Ward, Wardini Books
Alberta Bracken is 11 years old and life is pretty good. She lives in an Australian seaside town where she spends the summer hooning around on her bike, boogie boarding at the beach with her mates and avoiding her 8-year-old sister, Clementine, who has a weird and abiding obsession with practising circus skills.
Everything changes this summer. A broken sewerage pipe spills poo into the sea keeping the tourists away, Alberta's closest friend inexplicably starts ghosting her and her mum, Tammy, author of the wildly successful Tammy Bracken's Guide to Modern Manners (soon to be a Netflix series) is even more annoying than usual and has taken up a disturbing secret hobby. Let's not even get started on what Dad's been up to.
In the midst of all this, Alberta gets a message from her neighbour, Mikki, a budding filmmaker. His granddad has recently passed away in his native Japan and Mikki could do with some company. So could Alberta, and they get into the habit of noodling around in the local forest, making documentaries about the trees and their awesome benefits to humankind. When the trees come under threat, Alberta and Mikki take on an unexpected, urgent mission.
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This is a story where the children are the sensible ones. Alberta is naïve in many ways (she's 11) but smart and loyal. When her ordered, reassuringly normal life begins to crumble, she focuses on what she can do, finding reserves of bravery she didn't know she had. Her family are letting her down – her parents are failing her – and bonkers little Clementine needs support. Mikki is calm, wise, grieving and completely lovely.
I love stories where the adults get to be a bit rubbish and the kids do amazing things. This is a gentle story that has it all – drama, bullying, kindness, friendship, flawed humans, forgiveness and redemption. It's about getting some perspective when the world goes mad. We all need a bit of that.
Best suited to readers of about 9 to as old as you can get.