“At seven years old, Millie Bird realises that everything is dying around her. She wasn’t to know that after she had recorded twenty-seven assorted creatures in her Book of Dead Things her dad would be a Dead Thing, too.
Agatha Pantha is eighty-two and has not left her house since her husband died. She sits behind her front window, hidden by the curtains and ivy, and shouts at passers-by, roaring her anger at complete strangers. Until the day Agatha spies a young girl across the street.
Karl the Touch Typist is eighty-seven when his son kisses him on the cheek before leaving him at the nursing home. As he watches his son leave, Karl has a moment of clarity. He escapes the home and takes off in search of something different.
Three lost people needing to be found. But they don’t know it yet. Millie, Agatha and Karl are about to break the rules and discover what living is all about.”
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao-tzu
How old were you when you experienced your first “dead thing”? Well, while Millie Bird may have experienced it several times over (twenty-seven times in fact) in her short life of seven years, it is the twenty-eighth entry in her Book of Dead Things that has her questioning everything in her young life – the death of her father.
After his death, life just seems to go downhill for her – her mother isn’t providing answers to the questions that she asks (actually she’s hardly conversing with Millie at all) and then one day she suddenly packs Millie up, takes her to a local department store, orders her to stay put and disappears, leaving poor Millie to fend for herself. Not to be deterred and insistent that her mother will eventually find her, she leaves handwritten notes laying around telling her mother were she is – “in here mum”; “be right back mum”!
Enter Karl The Touch Typist. Still grieving the loss of his wife Evie and, having recently escaped the confines of the old-age home where his son had placed him so that he can live the life he wants, eighty-seven year old Karl meets “Just Millie” in the café of the department store on her “second day of waiting”. Unfortunately, an old man befriending a young girl with a mannequin in tow is cause for serious concern amongst the patrons and security of the store and he soon finds himself in a dire situation.
With Karl having promised to find her when he was being carted off, Millie heads back to her house only to come to the notice of her neighbour, Agatha Pantha. It’s been seven years since the temperamental eighty-two year old Agatha left her home, preferring her own company and sitting in her various “chairs” at her window yelling at inanimate objects and shouting vile insults at anyone that walks past. She’s therefore not happy when she sees Millie making her way over with a piece of paper in her hand but, when the girl asks her to tell her what it says, she does so and then asks her to leave her alone. By the next afternoon, the fact that the child hasn’t eaten and that her situation has begun to trouble Agatha very much, sees her gathering up her courage to head over to Millie’s empty house to see if she can help.
From here the two strike up a tentative friendship based on the fact that Agatha is unhappy that Millie has been abandoned. Karl, of course, finally manages to find them, after his own wacky experience with two teenagers who offer him a lift, and the three embark on a madcap adventure in search of Millie’s mum.
Whatever I was expecting when I picked up this book, it wasn’t what I got – it was even better!
Brooke Davis has given us a thought-provoking story on life, death, being young, growing old, loneliness, sadness, grief, loss and hope, all through the eyes of three quirky characters with whom I immediately empathised – with Millie for being abandoned so ungraciously at her young age and for all the answers she is searching for; Karl for his gentle, loving nature and beautiful memories of the wife he loved so dearly; and Agatha who has become so embittered by life itself that she can see no good in it.
The chance meetings with other side characters along the way add a dose of whimsy as well as humour to the already humorous dialogue between our three main characters and I couldn’t help but reflect on all the aspects that Brooke is trying to get across to her audience such as: the different levels of loneliness we experience through all life’s phases; how difficult it must be for the older generation to try and understand the younger generation; but, mostly, how their journey allows them to channel their emotions and experiences into making a difference to the life of one little girl.
If you’re looking for a story that will make you fall in love with life again and can find it in yourself to look past the smattering of black humour within the narrative, you will find a “happy-sad” story with endearing characters who, while searching for answers to the lives they have lost will ultimately be led to finding themselves again.
I wish to thank Hachette Australia for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.
About the Author
Brooke Davis grew up in Bellbrae, Victoria, and attempted to write her first novel when she was ten years old. It was a genre-busting foray into the inner-workings of a young teenage girl’s mind – Anne of Green Gables meets The Baby-sitters Club meets Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” – titled Summer Sadness. Fortunately it remains unfinished, as she quickly realised she didn’t know the first thing about sadness, or being a teenager.
Once she left those teenage years behind, she completed her Honours degree in writing at the University of Canberra, winning the Allen & Unwin Prize for Prose Fiction, the Verandah Prose Prize, and the University Medal.
Brooke recently completed her PhD in creative writing at Curtin University in Western Australia and, while there, she was awarded the 2009 Bobbie Cullen Memorial Award for Women Writers, the 2009 AAWP Prize for Best Postgraduate Paper, and the 2011 Postgraduate Queensland Writing Prize.
She loves to sell other people’s books, and is sometimes allowed to do that at two very nice bookshops: one in Perth and one in Torquay.