Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bookmark Days by Scot Gardner

"There was only one way to communicate with a Carrington and that was with fire in your eyes and broken glass in your words."
So thinks Avril Stanton until the day she meets Nathaniel Carrington!

Avril lives with her family on a sheep farm in an extremely rural area of Australia. She does her schooling by correspondence since the nearest school is 165 km away and rides her horse whenever she wants. She loves to read, so she has many books.

Avril also has learned to hate the Carringtons who live a mere fifteen kilometers away. No one knows just when the feud between the two families began, except that it started sometime after the war in which Hoppy Stanton and Les Carrington Sr. served together.

Avril meets Nathaniel Carrington when she and her grandfather go out to check on some sheep that have supposedly strayed into the Carrington's canola fields. Instead they find that their fence has been damaged by the Carrington's and they set out to mend it. Nathaniel arrives on a quad bike, apologizing because he was the one who damaged the fence. When he offers to mend the fence, he gets the royal brush off from Avril's grandfather, who is intent upon throwing more fuel onto the fire of the feud. Avril however, sees that Nathaniel is polite and sorry for what has happened. And she also finds herself instantly attracted to this handsome neighbour, with the tousled blond hair and the cap. Avril feels like Juliet when she first saw Romeo and this confuses her because she's been taught the Carrington's are bad people. Nathaniel doesn't look evil. He's handsome. It is a bookmark day.
"It's called a paradigm shift....and I had one that day. It was the biggest one in my life and it left me reeling. It was a whole mix of things that messed me up, like seeing my grandfather adding fuel to a fire that he'd always said blew in from the other side of the fence. Seeing a boy I'd been taught to hate and feeling the way Juliet probably did when she first saw Romeo."
Avril's cousin Katie and her Aunt Jacq arrive for a visit. Katie overwhelms Avril with her constant talking and bragging about her many boyfriends. Avril feels that she doesn't have the social confidence her cousin has but she soon comes to realize that Katie's approach to life is very different from her.

Avril and her family take their visiting relatives to the Forsyth Agricultural Show in Mildura. This day also turns out to be a bookmark day, changing Avril's life in ways she never dreamt. Avril meets Nathaniel at the Show, but she is too shy to talk to him. However, later on they find each other again and have a blast dancing to a band. Avril realizes that she is falling for a boy she shouldn't like - a boy from the family her own family has had a feud with for two generations. A feud she doesn't know the cause of and doesn't understand. At the Show, Avril makes an astonishing discovery regarding her grandmother.

Shortly after Nathaniel leaves the Show with his father, there is a violent thunderstorm and a lightning strike at the bandstand. In the chaos of the storm, Avril searches for Katie so they can go home. After getting her hungover cousin into their truck, Avril and her father come across the Carrington's ute which has overturned. Les Junior is badly injured but to Avril's relief,  Nathaniel is only bruised. The Stanton's help the Carringtons, despite the elder Carrington, Les Senior's violent response towards their presence at the accident scene.

Avril begins to understand that the feud between the older men of both families, doesn't really seem to exist between her parents and Nathaniels parents nor between herself and Nathaniel. She doesn't understand the deep hatred the two men have for each other because it doesn't seem to exist in the younger generations of either family. Avril reaches out to the Carringtons, not only because they are in a tight spot with Nathaniel's father injured but also because she wants to be able to see Nathaniel again. Although her and Nathaniel attempt to keep their blossoming love a secret, it is soon common knowledge in both families. When the two devise a plan to meet one another, a crisis develops. Will Avril be able to take a stand for what she believes in and also for a future with Nathaniel?

It's obvious Bookmark Days is a twist on the Romeo and Juliet theme set in the Australian outback. Two feuding families, and a young couple in love, secret meetings and co-conspirators like those in Romeo and Juliet can be found in this short novel. Avril Stanton is a likeable character who stays true to herself. She has little of her cousin Katie's "talent" for make-up, dress, and flirting with boys but she does come to recognize that she has abilities that her cousin doesn't have. In this way, she doesn't try to copy her cousin and at one point is thoroughly disgusted with Katie's behaviour. Instead she forges her own path. Her strength of character not only helps her and Nathaniel but also both of their families.

Bookmark Days is a sweet story about a girl's first love. Avril's uncertainty and awakening to love is tender and endearing in contrast to Katie's more cynical approach. This short novel is well written and is a great choice for reluctant readers. The unique Australian setting adds another layer of interest. The themes of identity and love make this a book young readers can relate to. Scot Gardner has definitely succeeded in writing a wonderful romantic novel.

Book Details:
Bookmark Days by Scot Gardner.
Crows Nest: Australia       Allen & Unwin   2009
170 pp.

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