Shirley Marr’s latest release is a pertinent and timely novel which explores the complexities of immigration, grief and resilience. It is a powerful narrative, made even more so when you take into account that it is based on the author’s own experiences. Meixing and her family, Ma Ma and Pa Pa, arrive in the New Land of Australia. They are full of nervous hope for a wonderful new life. This hope very quickly dissipates as she realises the New World is overwhelmingly different and the people which fill it are difficult to understand. On top of all this, an unexpected tragedy befalls her family, turning their world even further upside down.
Meixing initially takes solace within the walls of Big Scary; her magical ever-changing new home. Within the bounds of this new home, there is an intriguing Glass House which contains the sun, moon and stars, and grows through the power of imagination. Guarded by a strange feline sentry, this Glasshouse is Meixings solace. Mexing’s inner world expands, literally and metaphorically, through the seeds of her imagination, as she and her friends plant Uncle’s seeds that immediately grow into memories of their past, present and future. I was reminded of one of my own childhood favourites, A Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson. The retreat from a threatening outside world to an inner sanctuary of imagination were similar and spoke of the character’s needs to exert control in a world where they have very little sovereignty.
Although Meixing’s story is heart-rending, as an adult and a classroom teacher, I was most moved by the actions of the adults around her. For me, seeing how completely Meixing was, at time, misjudged and misunderstood by her teachers was heartbreaking. There are sections, especially around the ring and how Kevin’s outbursts were dealt with, that I would love to share and discuss with others. I feel this partially autobiographical tale brings home the impact and influence that a positive authority figure can have on the life chances of a young person in an extremely real and powerful way.
Marr has written Meixing’s story with such careful and nuanced detail that every reader, adult or child, will connect and empathise with at least one of the struggles. This text will promote deep discussions and connections in the UKS2 classroom, however it will need to be introduced with discretion as some sections may be upsetting for some pupils.
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