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The International Writers Magazine: Young Fiction

Eggs by Jerry Spinelli
(Orchard Books)
ISBN: 978-1-84616-699-0

Tiffany Lee

The children’s fiction shelf has fallen under a dictatorship. Power titles like Harry Potter and Tracy Beaker have revolutionised this formally communist territory, and left lesser known novels at the bottom of the literary hierarchy. So when a modest and understated tale like this emerges which focuses on the triviality of childhood, it has got a long climb ahead of it.

Our hero is David, a nine year old boy left confused and tormented by his mother’s death a year earlier. She was killed by slipping down a wet staircase that had no warning sign, so David lives his life in the belief that if he sticks to all the rules, somehow he might finally be able to watch the sun rise with her. Enter the antagonist, in the form of bohemian teenager Primrose. Like David, she also inhabits a dysfunctional home; however Primrose adopts an active role in continuing her family’s dysfunctions. Primrose’s mother is a fortune teller and employs all the bizarre stereotypes associated with the job. Primrose dismisses her as "crazy" and takes it upon herself to move into a van outside the family home.

By delving deeper into these superbly charming characters, it doesn’t take long to notice that David and Primrose are as similar as two eggs in a basket. Underneath their defensive exteriors they are both craving the stability that has been snatched away from them. Therefore in the tradition of juvenile cross gender relationships, they refuse to admit that they find refuge in each other. The highpoints of the novel come when Spinelli lets us briefly examine these insecurities before snatching them away as the characters reconstruct their barriers. In David’s case it is his mother’s death that haunts him but Primrose’s psychology, as you might expect from an older character, is more complex. She does not despise her mother but intentionally creates a wall between them. Primrose fails to recognise she actually harbours her mothers eccentricities which become a trait in herself she seems extremely proud of. What troubles her most, however, is the disappearance of her father who abandoned Primrose and her mother many years ago. Primrose’s impulsive and unanticipated behaviour is a compelling element of the novel as she single-handedly drives the narrative up the curb and away from being any predictable journey.

The reader is invited along whilst David and Primrose embark on mini adventures in imaginative and previously untapped locations. The chapter ‘Nightcrawlers’ follows David and Primrose’s experience scrounging for fishing bait to sell to their junk hoarding, to disabled friend Refrigerator John. Unfortunately at this point in the novel, I found my attention span regressing to that of this books target audience. This chapter is simply wallpaper that decorates the progression of David and Primrose’s Yo-yoing friendship and I would have much rather this exciting dialogue took place in a more stimulating location. Perhaps this was Spinelli’s attempt to fashion a fresh and accessible adventure for her young readers, but personally I found this chapter unsuccessful and tedious as I became easily distracted. Although the characters are sometimes too calculatedly opposite, the quick witted and wide eyed exploration of childhood discovery operates at such rapid pace that the reader is able to forgive these imperfections.

Spinelli’s creativity does not seem inhibited at all by trying to appeal to his younger audience, but instead simplifies his ironies and metaphors so they do not lose any of their impact. One particular example of this is how David’s fear of the night is worded beautifully by saying "he discovered his voice could substitute for light". Similarly, the irony that David is seeking to be reunited his mother and Primrose is deliberately avoiding hers is explained towards the end of the novel so the younger audience can still appreciate its masterful construction.

The message may not be as overt as Harry Potter or Tracy Beaker, but this tale is far more down to earth and allows children who do not go to Hogwarts or live at an orphanage to relate blindly to its depiction of childhood discovery. This novel is about subtly and challenges children to be active in searching for the discreet subtext to really appreciate the story.
© Tiffany Lee November 2007

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