What a year! Don Bradman scored 334 runs in the Third Test against England, the half-arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge finally met in the middle, Pharlap won the Melbourne Cup, and Harry and I went into the egg business together. Harry’s been my best friend for as long as I can remember. We catch the train every Friday after school to Uncle George’s chook farm to pick up two boxes of eggs – that’s twenty dozen or 240 eggs. We get them at cost price for a shilling a dozen and sell them for two shillings. Not bad for a couple of Glebe boys on the wrong side of thirteen. There are no overheads – even the train fare’s free. We’re not breaking the law because there’s never anyone to collect our tickets at Rooty Hill station.
Joe Riley is an energetic, independent and resourceful 12-year-old boy living in Sydney in 1930. Despite the challenges of the depression, his family is doing alright. His father’s (illegal) bookie business is thriving and the same sense of entrepreneurial enthusiasm is keeping Joe buoyant. All in all, he’s fairly happy with his life. Then his parent’s throw a spanner in the works by sending him off to get an education at a posh boarding school. It’s not a place he fits well and although he does find some friends he is desperately homesick. He seems to attract the wrong kind of attention, particularly from prefects and from Brother Felix. Before he really knows what’s happening he’s expelled from St Bartholomew’s and packed off to The Farm, a reform school south of Sydney. It’s no easy ride, but Joe discovers that education comes in many forms, as does strength.
Racing the Moon tells the story of a initially confident boy who knows and revels in his world. Secondary school is full of challenges he couldn’t imagine and he realises that the world contains much that he doesn’t understand. There are myriad themes here of bullying, honesty and morality, family, secrets and endurance. Readers will revel in the freedom enjoyed by the young Joe, particularly as it is set in a time where jobs were scarce and survival was often a daily struggle. They will empathise with his struggle to make sense of the unfamiliar boarding school environment and then reform school, and rejoice as he finds his way. Recommended for upper primary readers.
Racing the Moon, Michelle Morgan Allen & Unwin 2014 ISBN: 9781743316351
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller