MICHELLE EVANS, 17
The book Squib, by Nina Bawden, is the story of Kate Pollack, a girl who believes that a mysterious little boy she meets in the park might be her drowned brother, Rupert.
Kate feels responsible for Rupert's drowning. The two children were swimming in the ocean when the current became strong. Seeing the children in trouble, her father swam out and saved Kate first because Rupert appeared safe in an inner tube.
By the time he went back for Rupert, the boy had drifted far from shore. Rupert and his father were unable to fight the strong currents. The body of Kate's father was recovered, but Rupert's never was. This gives Kate hope that possibly someone came along and saved Rupert and then kept and cared for him.
When Kate meets Squib, her hope that Rupert is still alive is strengthened. Everything about Squib seems to support Kate's idea. First, Kate notices that Squib is the same age Rupert would have been. Second, she notices the eyes. Squib has "one eye more blue than brown (and) one more brown than blue." Kate notices in a painting her mother did of Rupert that his eyes are the same. And no one can totally convince Kate that Squib is not Rupert.
Squib is not a fairy tale, but a story about real life. The book ends happily, but it's a rough road to the end. The story touches on many depressing subjects, so it's not suggested for the person who is having a nice day. It includes such topics as child abuse, gangs, the death of loved ones and how people cope with it, and the absence of parents.
One example of the child abuse is when Kate and her friends Robin, Sammy and Prue coax Squib to come out to play in a plan to rescue him from his abusive guardians:
"Squib came down the steps. Sammy had reached him now, was standing beside him. The fair head and the dark, close together. And the woman had turned and seen them. . . .
"She waddled forward, draping in washing. Her voice came clear through the soft still air. `Get inside, you!' She dumped the clothes in a tin bath and stood, hands on her hips. `I told you to stay in and keep clean, didn't I? Can't turn my back for a minute! You'll do what you're told, my lad, or I'll learn you.'
"Squib crooked his arm in front of his face. She reached out and cuffed him; they heard the slap and saw his head jerk back. She said, `Basket for you, that's what you're asking for, that's what you'll get,' and he began to wail, thinly. Sammy began to back away and she shouted at him. `You'll clear off or I'll clip you one, too. Bloody kids hanging round, I won't have it.' "
I had a problem believing that the main character, Kate, was a 12-year-old girl. She acted too grown up. I do not know any 12-year-old that calls people "darling," which Kate calls Hugo, the child she baby-sits, in this story. I kept seeing her more as someone's mother. Granted, she did experience some tragedies early in her life, but there wasn't any playfulness in her. She was too serious and too much like an adult.
This book left me bewildered. I did not have an overwhelming feeling of praise or dislike for it when I finished. I didn't know what to feel because I had never read such a dark children's book.
I question whether this book should be read by the targeted ages of 8-12, although it does introduce the realities of life to the reader from a child's-eye view.