Sprite Downberry, by Nette Hilton

Sprite Downberry groaned. She felt an inside sagging, like her stomach had just hitched a ride south.
‘I don’t want to,’ she said.
Her mother held out one lovely, long-fingered, scarlet-tipped hand to show the baby diamond-backed carpet snake that twined, tiny and perfect, around her wrist.
‘Why not?’
‘I don’t think Ms Bloome will like it,’ Sprite said.
She should have said Ms Bloome would definitely not like it and she was sure there were rules about bringing snakes to school. Especially snakes that weren’t in a box or a cage or whatever it was you should take a snake to school in.

Sprite and her family live out of town in a old farmhouse. It’s not fancy, but it’s home. At least it was. Now Dad has gone to the coast and doesn’t look like coming back any time soon. School is horrible. Sprite’s former friend, Katie, has taken up with the intimidating Madeleine and together they are making sure everyone else steers clear of her too. Sunny, Sprite’s mum is sad and unpredictable and her ability to care for Sprite and her little brother, Mozz, is affected. Sprite tries her best to restore her mother to happiness, but it’s a task beyond her. Sunny needs Dad. Mozz needs Dad. Sprite needs Dad, perhaps most of all. Sprite’s troubles escalate as she tries to find Dad, and has to decide who to trust. Along the way, she gains some perspective on the bullies at school.

Sprite Downberry paints a picture of a family in crisis. Adults may see the big picture, the long term outcomes, but for children caught in the web of their parents’ distress, their world is much smaller, more immediate. Their world is measured in meals and clean clothes, minutes and days. Mozz is in many ways still a baby, dealing in concrete concepts. Sprite is a responsible big sister, a quiet character, struggling with bullying at school, her father’s inexplicable absence and her mother’s worsening illness. The third person intimate viewpoint brings the reader close to Sprite, while still allowing them to understand more than she does. Sprite manages the only way she can, the way she has done in the past. She is resourceful and adaptive, fallible and naïve. Her physical and emotional journey is exhausting but ultimately liberating. Sunny’s deteriorating mental health is sensitively depicted, and the reactions of outsiders show some of the extra challenges families must face. Recommended for upper primary readers, particularly girls.

Sprite Downberry

Sprite Downberry, Nette Hilton
Angus & Robertson 2008
ISBN: 9780732285487