The Endsister by Penni Russon

In the locked attic of the house on Mortlake Road in south-west London, near a bend in the River Thames, something stirs.
It shudders, a cobwebbed thing, tattered and dusty, so long forgotten, so long forgetting.
It is hardly anything, but it is almost something, disturbing the shadows, shrinking from the approaching light.

An Australian family inherit a grand old house in London and move from their rented farmhouse to live at Outhwaite House. There Else, Clancy, the twins and Sibbi, along with their parents adjust to a new life. Some settle in more easily than others to this old house – some begin to thrive and others succumb to the secrets trapped within the walls. Told from multiple viewpoints, this is a story of endings and beginnings, and of all things in between.

It takes skill to write a cohesive story from multiple (different-aged) viewpoints without sacrificing the building tension and keeping the reader connected. Penni Russon nails it. Each dweller in Outhwaite House is given a voice and their own story, and together they weave a wonderful, mysterious story that will keep the reader page-turning to the very last. Highly recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Endsister, Penni Russon Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781741750652
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Only Ever Always, by Penni Russon

Clara’s world is broken. She has no family, only Andrew who found her living in her broken house and moved in with her. And Groom, who wants to take Clara away, across the river to the better place he is sure they find there…

Me and the dog look at the glass door together. The key’s stuck fast. I gently coax it with my fingers, but I can’t get it to turn.

‘Spring must be busted’ ” I tell the dog. I stand up, frowning at the bottom of the ball, trying to see hw to open it up. I give it one more turn and suddenly sounds come out of the box, itching the hair inside my ears.

‘Ha!’ I say to dog. ‘I did it.’

Clara’s world is broken. She has no family, only Andrew who found her living in her broken house and moved in with her. And Groom, who wants to take Clara away, across the river to the better place he is sure they find there.  Clara doesn’t want to go – this world is what she has always known. Then she finds a broken music box, and sees the promise it holds, and suddenly her world is changing, though not for the better.

Claire’s world is whole, but her heart is broken. Her beloved Uncle Charlie has been in an accident, and she is filled with grief. All she has to remember him by is the music box he gave her the day she was born. Through the music she can escape some of her troubles, and connect with Clara’s world.

Claire and Clara are linked by the music box – or is that they are in fact two halves of the one girl? Claire is from a contemporary world, whilst Clara’s world is dystopian, populated with characters both frightening and colourful.

Only Ever Always is a clever, complex novel. The blend of first and second person narrative, the clash and connection between the two worlds and the two characters and the issues of family, grief, loyalty and more which are explored all combine to pack a pretty powerful punch in a relatively small package. Every word, every scene counts, making a really satisfying tale which leaves the reader both satisfied and contemplating.

Only Ever Always

Only Ever Always, by Penni Russon

Allen & Unwin, 2011

ISBN 9781741750447

This book is available from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Little Bird, by Penni Russon

I was curled up in the seat by the window. Out in the street a little bird bounced along the footpath, pecking up invisible crumbs. It didn’t seem to care about the world around it – the busy shopping strip and the people dashing by. It just hopped out of the way and kept pecking, as if it didn’t even know how small and crushable it was. The more I watched it, the more sure I became that someone would tread on it. A small child raced along the footpath, and a big red-faced woman laden with shopping backs lumbered after him. Suited men in shiny shoes and suited women in dangerous high heels hurried past the window. Two women walked side by side, pushing big-wheeled prams. A young guy loped past, his head tilted upwards, as if waiting for something to fall out of the sky. None of the passers-by seemed aware of the little bird’s existence. If I were a bird I’d fly all the time. I’d never come down to the ground.

Year 11 student, Ruby-Lee is stuck in a bit of a rut and unfortunately it’s not even a comfortable rut. Her sister, Shandra, has transformed into Bridezilla, her father has remarried and has a new baby, her best friend dishes out doses of friendship tied tight with strings. When her sister offers her as babysitter for Maisy, daughter of chief bridesmaid, Colette, Ruby-Lee is cross and uncertain. But Maisy quickly wins her heart. When the one-off becomes a regular gig, Ruby-Lee quickly falls madly in love with this gorgeous baby. Then Spence, Maisy’s father and also at teacher at Ruby-Lee’s school turns up. Things start to get more complicated as Spence’s mother arrives, Shandra’s wedding is called off and Colette starts to stay out later and later. Ruby-Lee has to navigate her way past the morass of other people’s problems to sort out just who she is and where she’s going.

It’s hard to know the answers when you don’t understand the questions. Ruby-Lee’s life is like that. She can’t articulate what’s missing in her life, only that something is. She tells her story in first person and the reader weaves through the narrative with her as she bumps and grinds her way through with little sense of where she’s going. Her parents’ divorce and subsequent repartnering initially appear to have little effect on her, yet the changes brought are at least partly responsible for continuing the friendship with Tegan. The only good part of the friendship seems to be its longevity. Her sister’s volatility seems to have its basis in the same unacknowledged insecurity. There are many relationships on show here, some functional, others less so. Only by watching closely those around her can Ruby-Lee begin to address her English essay topic, ‘What is Love?’ Recommended for secondary-aged readers.

Little Bird (Girlfriend Fiction)

Little Bird (Girlfriend Fiction), Penni Russon
Allen&Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781741758641

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

the indigo girls, by Penni Russon

‘Summer always seems to start when we get to Indigo. Christmas and December, it’s like summer’s dress rehearsal. It isn’t really summer until we turn down the dirt road, until we see Point Indigo for the first time, until we see the sparkling ocean.’

Summer holidays mean camping on the foreshore at Point Indigo for the Indigo Girls – Zara, Tilly and Meike. Only this year Meike won’t be there until later. Zara and Tilly both secretly consider Meike to be the connection that keeps them together and neither is sure whether they can be friends without her. They only see each other for these two summer weeks. Short, brainy Tilly and tall, gorgeous Zara think they have little in common, little to build a friendship on. But as the days progress, their relationship changes. They complete the old rituals without Meike and begin some new ones of their own. Along the way they discover a lot about each other and even more about themselves.

the indigo girls is the second title in a new series from Allen & Unwin, developed in collaboration with ‘Girlfriend’ magazine. Zara and Tilly are dual main characters, with the story being told in first person in alternate chapters. Zara is a classic beach beauty – blue-eyed and golden-haired, but hides her questions and fears behind a ‘botox-bored’ face. Tilly, while lacking confidence in her appearance, can’t wait for university and the company of those who think like her. The girls overtly and covertly admire things about each other, often those they perceive themselves as lacking. The characters are well-developed and the action keeps the reader hooked. Themes of self-esteem, risk-taking behaviour, sexuality and friendship provide opportunities for readers to explore their own emerging independence and the responsibilities and risks that go with it. Recommended for lower- to mid-secondary readers.

the indigo girls, by Penni Russon
Allen& Unwin 2008
ISBN: 9781741752922

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