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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Speed of Light
by Joy Cowley
Age Range: 12+
Jeff’s comes from an affluent but dysfunctional family. His father is more interested in money than his family; his mother is in denial; his older brother Beck is in a Thai prison for drug smuggling and his sister Andrea has a secret. Jeff’s parents have disowned Beck and refuse to talk about him so Jeff and Andrea have to discuss him whenever they are alone.
Jeff has a fascination with numbers; while his family gradually falls apart he buries himself in the safe world of numerology and mathematics because he always knows where he is with numbers. When a strange old woman known as Maisy, is blown into Jeff’s life after a storm hits Wellington, she challenges everything he believes to be true. Can Jeff be the glue that can put his family back together again?
Joy Cowley is one of New Zealand’s best-loved writers for children. She manages to keep the tension right up to the last page and her beautiful prose carries this book along – Jeff’s ‘mind was like a grasshopper springing away from the pages and back to the conversation’ and when he is trying to remember he muses ‘for example, if you couldn’t think of a word you let it go and soon after, some tide would wash it up, unbidden, on the shores of your mind’.
This unusual novel is about light and dark and challenging our perceptions as well as showing adults who are too obsessed with themselves to understand their children. It is difficult at first to have much empathy with Jeff’s parents: his father is bombastic and a bully who is unable to deal with his feelings while his mother is emotionally detached. Jeff is only able to rely on Andrea for support but even she is becoming distant. Despite Jeff’s despair at times the underlying moral theme of the story is one of hope.