Mimi and the Blue Slave, by Catherine Bateson

Two days before my father’s funeral I came down with such bad flu that Mum got the doctor to make a house call.
‘That’s ridiculous, Lou. It’s spring,’ Aunty Ann said. ‘As if she can’t be bundled into the car.’
‘It’s raining,’ Mum said, ‘and her temperature’s through the roof.’
‘We really don’t need this now,’ Aunty Ann said.
‘Her body is manifesting her spiritual grief,’ Aunty Marita said. ‘There’s nothing you can do, Lou. Just let it run its course. Grief has to do that.’
‘It might be manifested grief, ’Mum replied. ‘I’m not taking any chances.’

Mimi and her parents live in a small seaside town. Mimi’s dad has just died and their little family of three has become a family of two, both struggling to deal with their grief. Mum has her two sisters who provide divergent opinions on everything from Mimi’s flu, to what should be sold in the family’s bric-a-brac shop. Mimi has Ableth, a little blue pirate, who is the most disobedient slave it is possible to be. Mimi talks to Ableth when things are at their worst and he helps her through the dark days. Mum takes to her bed and life becomes bleaker. Mimi discovers allies in the most surprising places. There are many milestones in the time after Dad’s death, many stumbles as Mimi and Mum find a way to go on.

‘Mimi and the Blue Slave’ is a story about life. Mimi and her parents have been a tight little unit, although Mimi does have friends at school, and Mum does have her sisters. Mum’s sisters provide comic relief with their polar opposite suggestions. Mimi uses the ‘blue slave’ Ableth, when she needs to talk to someone objective. Indeed, Ableth is more than objective, he’s almost disinterested in some ways. He helps Mimi to see things clearly and to have the courage to move forwards. Others, like antique buyer Guy, help Mimi to keep the business going while Mum is unable to. Over time, Mimi, Mum, the auntys, Edie and Guy form a new little family. It doesn’t seek to replace Dad, but it helps them to value and celebrate life. Death is never an easy topic to discuss, yet it is one of life’s few certainties. Catherine Bateson uses beautiful language and gentle humour to show that life does go on, no matter how impossible it seems. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Mimi and the Blue Slave Catherine Bateson
Woolshed Press 2010
ISBN: 9781864719949

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author