Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"You're not going to ring the bell?"
"That clanging piece of junk? No thanks."
"But aren't you sad to be leaving?"
"No. I'm not upset. Not in the least, thanks, Amanda."
"David thinks he's too good for primary school."
"Well, he's not going to high school. He's gotta repeat the year."
"That's not true! Top of science, top of maths, top of geography."
"Mum and Dad are worried about your social development. They were going to tell you after Christmas."
"Nice try. Nothing's going to put a dampener on me blowing this popsicle stand."
"I can't believe this is it. We'll never hear the bell ringing again."
Prophetic words... School's out forever. Well, junior school at least. Twins David and Lilly and their friends Ben, Amanda, Nathan and Laurence are free at last to enjoy the burgeoning respite of summer holidays before they make the step up to big school and they've got plans to kick proceedings off with a huge splash. A two-day sleepover pool party movie-fest at rich kid Laurence's house, which will be especially poignant as he's off to private school at the end of summer which deep down they all know is inevitably going to change the balance of their future friendship.
Except... a sudden thunder storm sends Lily's dog Pepu idiotically scampering off into the fast flowing river, and one conveniently collapsed bridge later, five of our kids are struggling to keep their heads above water. In fact they don't... Only Laurence somehow manages to keep his footing atop the pile of now-splintered timbers. I have no idea what the significance of this separation is, but I am sure it will become clearer in time.
Meanwhile, back to our drowning kids... Much to their surprise, and mine, they don't seem to end up dead at all, I think, instead waking up on the shores of a very strange land, populated by little munchkins known as Peaches who immediately fete our gang as hallowed spirits of the forest whom they are convinced will have much scholarly wizardry to teach them. To them each child represents a different aspect of the divine: will, rising, growth, beasts and skies. The Peaches do seem slightly puzzled but not overly troubled by the absence of the Spirit of Plenty, which is Laurence...
Over several months our kids either settle into the forest and their roles, or become increasingly unsettled and impatient to return home. Precisely how that could be possibly achieved, though, is something no one seems to have any real idea about, with the Peaches being utterly baffled as to why the sprits might even want to leave their leafy paradise. But it's far from the only mystery they'll encounter, for this is a very unusual land with its own peculiar ecosystem of bizarre creatures and fantastical fauna. The tree-based architecture is wondrous to behold also, though there are some surprisingly familiar constructions too...
The story is broken down into monthly chapters, each seen from the perspective of a different child, and told in an individual art style, my favourite being the 8-bit pixelated treatment Nathan gets.
Campbell Whyte is clearly a very talented artist and I could draw comparisons with the likes of Farel THE WRENCHIES Dalrymple, Jose ADVENTURES OF A JAPANESE BUSINESSMAN Domingo, Tommi THE BOOK OF HOPE Musturi, Bryan SECONDS Lee O'Malley and several others depending on which of his many styles he's working in. As a conceit it works well, subtly changing the focus to reflect the differing emotional states of the rotating central protagonists.
As the story develops, tensions build between different members of our gang, and also factions of the Peaches, not all of whom are convinced about the pious provenance of the children. Hidden agendas are gradually revealed and then... the book ends! Arrrggghhh.
I hadn't realised this was merely the first volume, of two or perhaps three I think, and consequently I was so that entranced by the expansive milieu which Whyte was weaving - and being perplexed by the puzzle of what was really going on - that I was a little bit devastated to be so forcibly wrenched back to my own reality without any definitive answers!!
I guess you've correctly divined I'll be reading the subsequent volume(s), then!