Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
Children’s books are responsible for some of the best writing available today. Such is their quality that many which were published decades ago (Harry the Dirty Dog is just one example) are still very much loved today. One that is bound to join the group is the recently published August & Jones.
August, a lonely eleven -year -old boy, is bullied by boys in his class and unhappily is a member of the football team where his older brother is the star player and his father the coach. He is selected to be the buddy to the new girl in his class, Jones.
Jones had been happy in her rural life at Cotton, 800 kms from Sydney. She is an only child but she had friends at school and her animals on their small property. To leave them was a wrench which was followed by having to adjust to life in a big city, Sydney.
Pip Harry has blended several themes within their story of a friendship that becomes deep and touching, without a trace of sentimentality. It is made moving because Jones, who already has a prosthetic eye due to a previous tumour, now has to face total blindness as the cancer has returned. Her remaining eye has to be removed.
This might have become an awful tear-jerker but, with a sensitive skill, Pip Harry avoids this. A reader is made aware of the seriousness of the operation with clear and detailed descriptions of the hospital, tests, the pain and the symptoms she suffers. She does not dwell on the process but arouses our empathy and the horror of losing one’s vision.
August & Jones explores more than this, with a delicate skill. The value of love and friendship, kindness and generosity, the effect on the family of an unhappy marriage are there; as well as the joys of both city and country life, courage to be yourself, and how the bucket list cannot just motivate – but distract, even comfort.
Jones’ spirit reasserts itself when, finally after her recovery from the surgery, she takes August and her father on a climb on Mt Kosciusko. Her bucket list has left the ‘things to see’ behind. Now replaced by ‘things to DO’!
There is so much for young readers to love about this book. It is contemporary – Hamilton is on the list! It is beautifully written, although, at times, Jones and August demonstrate maturity, insight, and unselfishness beyond their years – but this is not a serious shortcoming. Handling of current issues, acceptance of disability, and regarding Jones’ blindness as a new pathway is exceptional.
The author and her two main characters have obviously been inspired by Van Gogh’s quote: ‘The way to know life, is to love many things.’
A beautiful book for young children. It deserves to become a classic.
August & Jones
by Pip Harry
ISBN 978 073442 035 0