The Red Shoe, by Ursula Dubosarsky

The earth smelt strong to Matilda and full of things growing and dying all at the same time. She thought about the grey-green tangled bush at the end of the street, full of cowboys and Red Indians, waiting with their guns and their bows and arrows. She thought about the Japs and the Germans…She thought about the sad smiling man with his chess set and the newsreel and her tennis ball…

It is 1954 and six year old Matilda is living with her family in post-war Sydney. Her father is often away, working on shipping lines, and her older sister Elizabeth has recently had a breakdown. Her mother struggles to keep the family together, aided by Uncle Paul, who visits frequently. Matilda struggles to make sense of the world around her, haunted by memories of a family picnic which went horribly wrong, and by the absence of her father from a splintering family.

The Red Shoe is a haunting novel of family and of time, with events of the day shaping the course of the story. While Matilda’s father struggles with memories of the war, Matilda is increasingly aware of the threat of polio, and the Petrov Affair proves to be closer than the newspaper articles which are sprinkled throughout the paper, with a mysterious man hiding under guard in the house next door.

Dubosarsky weaves elements of mystery, of family tension, and of childlike simplicity together to create a plot which snares the reader and keeps the pages turning in search of answers to the clues. This is a beautiful tale for young adult and adult readers.

The Red Shoe, by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen & Unwin, 2006