The waitress brought my waylaid frappuccino, distracting Mum, who had been staring off into nothing for a while. The waitress was your typical Newtown specimen: she had short colourful hair (currently blue) arranged in a sequence of tiny sharp spikes, and she was pierced so much that she jangled when she walked, like loose change. All Mum could offer her was a fake smile that made it look like someone was tugging at her face. As Jangle the Waitress left, Mum became interested in her own coffee and I returned to reading my book.
‘Darling,’ she began, which was always a bad start, ‘you know I’ve been studying Italian on and off…’
I stopped reading mid-sentence, my eyes focusing on the space between two words. ‘Well, a fantastic offer has come up with some of the people I know from class, and, so what it means is – it’s very exciting, you see – I’m off to Italy.’
Mum is off to Italy, and Stu is off to the country to stay on the farm with his uncle, aunt and maniac cousins. The very thought of it is enough to bring on a throat-closing asthma attack. For once though, Mum is resolute. She needs a holiday and Stu will have to manage. For Stu, though, the reality is much worse than even he, with his creative imagination, could have foreseen. His aunt is determined to toughen him up and his cousins seem determined to kill him one way or another. None of his country family seem to understand that he’ll be happy just staying in his room with his books, reading away the six weeks before Mum returns. No, they are equally determined to show him the wonders of fresh air, responsibility and imaginative play. And that’s where the trouble starts.
Chicken Stu is hilarious. Stu seems prone to flights of imagination, but the reality of his trip to the farm is beyond imagining. He tells his story in first person and it is tempting to suspect he is exaggerating. His voice is quirky and wonderful. The truth beyond his dry observations, however, is that his aunt IS mad and his cousins ARE tearaway crazy. Their antics put him in real danger. Gradually Stu reveals the reasons behind his anxiety-induced asthma attacks. He’s lost his father to illness and feels that he should have done more to save him. Stu’s transformation from Ventolin-dependent city-boy to is a rough and tough journey. He has his own weapons (sense of humour, perseverance and intellect) and is called upon to use them all. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.
Chicken Stu, Nathan Luff
Scholastic Press 2010
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
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