‘The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley’ as a title, certainly gets the brain cells working. A title can be intriguing and provoke questions before the book is even opened. Thirteen – that number immediately conjures up the idea of something unfortunate. And what about that name, Noah? Does the character in this story have any connection with his biblical namesake? Well, both words are significant – they set up expectations which will either be proven or confounded.
This story is about the misfortunes of the Bradley family who, according to legend, were cursed centuries ago for their avarice and unwise squandering of the earth’s resources. Disappointed by Bradleys’ disregard for balance in nature, the ‘people of the hills’ conjure the black birds of the north and the North Wind to disperse and hound the Bradleys from wherever they settle, until the fortuitous day they come together to put right their wrongdoings.
There are rules to being a Bradley.
The first one is: you don’t talk about the curse to anyone else.
The second is: you don’t forget about the curse.
And the third one is: you never, never get attached to where you live. (p15)
So cast adrift like Noah and his ark, the story begins with Noah Bradley and his family settling into the thirteenth home and hoping that at last, this might be their ‘forever home’. The story is a fast-paced adventure that moves along at a cracking pace. There were some satisfying twists – I was cleverly wrong-footed at one point in the story, so I was able to enjoy the unravelling of the plot and the revelation of the final suspense. Throughout there’s the sense of something ominous brewing and a particularly terrifying moment when Hitchcockesque black birds pursue Noah and his friend Neena:
But Neena wasn’t looking at me any more. She was looking at the sky, and I saw her mouth grow wide in shock. There was a shirek, a terrible shriek. But it didn’t come from Neena and it didn’t come from me. It came from the sky and it echoed all around us. Then I heard it. The sound that haunted my dreams. The sound that woke me up at night. The sound that chased us from home to home.
Woosh, whoosh, whoosh.
The beating of a thousand dark wings. (p52)
Despite the Bradleys’ enforced wanderings, the story is infused with a strong sense of ‘home’ and familial love. Particularly strong are Noah’s relationships with his friend Neena and younger brother, Billy. Character is developed largely through dialogue and Dodd has a keen ear, perhaps as a result of her playwriting skills (her plays have been performed at various festivals).
Billy has a hearing impairment, which turns out to be quite important for the story, but crucially the story is never about disability. Dodd was diagnosed with Dyslexia as a university student, having struggled with reading and writing until she discovered the power of storytelling. Listening to the class novel and taking part in storytelling circles was transformative. Perhaps this experience has led to the sensitivity with which she deals with disability in her stories. She is keen that all children regardless of their particular abilities and challenges, find themselves in a book.
Whether Noah and his family finally find their ‘forever home’ or develop a love for the nomadic life, or continue to live under the threat of the ancient curse is something that I am not going to reveal here. You will have to read the book for yourselves, but I think you will thank me for that.
The Thirteenth Home of Noah Bradley is Amber Lee Dodd’s third novel for children, following the highly regarded We Are Giants and Lightning Chase Me Home.
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