A Small free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

If you read one children’s book this year, make it this one – the story of 12 year old Skip who in a time of war meets an odd assortment of friends. After a succession of foster homes and a life of abuse, the artistic Skip meets up with the old crippled Billy, a younger boy, Max and the dancer Tia with her baby Sixpence. These survivors of the war take refuge together in a fun fair.

This book has enough action to keep any young reader turning the pages. It also is a good story with a lyrical quality to the writing. The voice of Skip who tells the story is authentic, as he fends for himself and his assortment of friends. Skip is an enterprising, thoughtful, ingenious and complex young person caught between harsh reality and the make-believe world he invents for Max.

His interest in art, his drawings and references to specific paintings add to his character. As he narrates the story, he makes some interesting observations about life – ‘sometimes the truest things are the hardest to believe.’

There is no time frame given or explanation for what caused the war. Readers just accept that this is the state of affairs. While realistic in its portrayal of the situation, there is still an otherworldly quality as well. Although this is about war and homelessness, it is not a bleak book. Ultimately it is a book of hope.

Before I started to read this book, I had picked up and put down several novels after the first few pages. But this one captivated me from the beginning. It’s a book that will make you think about people, about sacrifice and love and about what is important in life.

This is the first Glenda Millard book I have read and I will not be the last. It is a gem. I wish I’d written it. I predict this will feature this year on the CBCA book awards.

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard
Allen & Unwin, 2009

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe.
Dale is a NSW writer and reviewer. You can visit her blog here.

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.