My dad loves seabirds. It’s how they can weep that gets him. When there’s no fresh water, they drink from the sea. The salt leaks out a gland near their eyes. It’s thicker than tears. They have to shake their heads to get rid of it. But they can survive a long time doing that. A tern half the size of a cat might live thirty years. …
… I’d like to think the seabirds lead me to Stonehill. But really, it’s the money that takes me there – this lump sum I’ve got coming. It’s been in my head like a slow drip – how I’ll stake my claim, what I’ll do when it comes through. For weeks I’ve thought of it, but done nothing. Then I see the Stonehill place in the estate agents and it all starts there, this Friday in late May.
Kenno, his parents and his sister live in a coastal town. In the summer, it’s full of weekenders. In winter, it’s the twitchers – the bird watchers – who flock to the town and the nearby islands. The town is growing rapidly, and their landlord has decided to sell the house they live in to finance his own building program. Kenno has seen the house he thinks will save his family, and all he needs to do is make a phone call. Then the money to buy the house, the money that will fix them all, will be theirs. Then they can be a family again. Then they can be happy again. Sounds simple, but of course it’s not. His sister Lou keeps falling for the wrong men, their mother has found God, and Dad has his own way of self-medicating. Kenno knows he can make it all right, he just has to keep Dad sorted, and bring Lou home. After all, it’s his fault.
Kenno is sixteen years old. He is determined that he can fix his broken family, fix their sadness if they could just get the money to buy themselves a house. Then Mum wouldn’t have to work so hard, Dad would be able to watch birds again and Lou would come home. Kenno struggles under the burden of guilt he carries, buoyed only by the hope that he can make it all right again. This is a family rent by sorrow, but unable to talk about it or move on. They are trapped in their grief, but cannot support each other. Like the migratory birds making the journey to nest, the family seem destined to circle their world, whether or not they would rather be elsewhere. Themes of responsibility and family, connection and disconnection, and rites of passage provide plenty of material for discussion in book groups.
Twitcher, Cherise Saywell
Vintage Books 2013
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
Available from good bookstores and online.