Saturday, June 22, 2013

Now by Morris Gleitzman

Unabridged audiobook on one MP3-CD. 3 hours, 26 minutes. Read by Mary-Anne Fahey. Bolinda Publishing Pty, Limited, May, 2012. 9781743111017. (Purchased.)

Australian eleven-year-old Zelda’s physician parents have sent her to live with her grandfather, Felix, while they are working in Africa. While Zelda adores Felix, it means switching schools. In her effort to impress, she came off as bragging and found herself on the wrong side of a group of Year Nine bullies. Verbal harassment quickly escalates to physical and before Zelda knows it, her attacker has found the locket around her neck. The one Felix does not know she has. The bully dispatches the locket in a stunning display of cruelty, leaving Zelda to deal with it as best she can, with the assistance of a boy from her class, in a scene that is not for the queasy.

Zelda knows about her grandfather’s experience during the Holocaust and about her namesake, Zelda, ten-year-old Felix’s brave six-year-old friend. Zelda tries to be brave like her but feels she constantly falls short. She seems to have inherited young Felix’s naïveté as she struggles to read social cues and behave appropriately. She thought that he would enjoy his birthday present, a book that she found from his childhood. She hadn’t anticipated the pain it would cause. She thought he would enjoy a birthday picnic in the woods and hanged the many thank you letters from patients on tree branches as decoration never anticipating that they would go up in flames when a birthday candle caught the nearby dry grasses afire. Even though she put the flames out, she still feels responsible for the bush fire that is threatening their town.

Felix is celebrating his 80th birthday and, while he has lived a full and successful life, he has not yet buried Zelda. He feels incredible survivor’s guilt and is not necessarily honored by his son’s decision to name his daughter Zelda. In fact, Zelda notes that he does not call her by her name but mostly with the endearment, “Babushka.” She believes it is because she is not good enough to live up to the memory of her namesake.

There are many issues explored in this slim volume yet it does not feel laden. There is nary a wasted word and each scene packs a punch. Following the motif of the two previous Felix and Zelda books, each chapter begins with the title word, “Now.” The author writes a note at the end, that readers need not read the books in order. While I agree that he provided enough background for a new reader to appreciate Now, I recommend reading Once and Then for a more powerful experience.

I read this one (kind of) simultaneously with my eyes and ears. I started with my eyes. The narration was well-paced  and Ms. Fahey conveyed Zelda's naiveté subtly. Reading with my ears constantly reminded me of the Australian setting. I don't happen to read accents when I read with my eyes. I very much enjoyed the audiobook. 

Even though this book feels like the end, as we meet Felix near the end of his long and successful life, the author revisited Felix as a thirteen-year-old in a fourth volume called, After. I do hope that the publisher is negotiating with the author to bring this next volume to the U.S. soon.

You can read the first chapter of After on his website.

A note about the cover(s):
I've had the hardcover edition in my library for a year now. One of my eighth grade reluctant readers read all three books this year and just loved them. He told me that Now is his favorite. While the audiobook cover (above) features an important scene from the book, the hardcover art is more in keeping with the other two volumes in the series.


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