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September Discussion – Plenty by Ananda Braxton-Smith

plentyThe junior fiction novel Plenty is written in third person from Maddy’s point of view.  It is the story of Maddy whose family relocates to the country in order to look after her ailing grandmother.  Initially, Maddy is an angry and confused little girl who over time accepts and begins to understand why her parents have made the decisions they have, until finally she knows she belongs in this community.

For such a small book we had a lot to discuss.  Firstly, we talked about what it is like to move away from home and the feelings of displacement, home sickness and loss.  We felt that this was a gentle way to introduce the concept of asylum seeking and refugees in a non-overt way.  Maddy experiences homesickness and misses her best friend Sophie-Rose but then she meets Grace who has had to flee the war in Sudan.

The concept of memory, loss or moving on is explored in a myriad of ways. We noted that even in the beginning of the novel Sophie-Rose has moved on in small ways from Maddy – she clearly is ready to leave elements of her childhood behind at a faster rate than Maddy.  Maddy physically leaves behind her home and school and has to make a new life in the country.  Grace, Ellen and Nana have experienced the loss that occurs in Civil War.  Nana’s dementia also brings about changes for Maddy and her realisation grows with the understanding of the depth of Nana’s condition,

 When her parents had said that Nana had been forgetting things lately, Maddy had thought they meant people’s names or where she put her purse – things like that.  She had never imagined this kind of forgetting.

There are some lovely moments in this novel where Maddy reconnects with her grandmother and the scenes where they discuss fairies and orchids are particularly poignant.  It is through these relationships that Maddy finds a sense of place and also begins to understand her own mother a little more.

A feature of this novel that really appealed to us was the way Braxton-Smith clearly evokes a sense of place.  Her descriptions of the city and Maddy’s life there are wonderfully described but it is in the depiction of the town of Plenty where her skills shine.  Those of us who had spent time in the country could really relate to the passages where she describes the heat and stillness that seems to spread a state of torpor over the town’s inhabitants.  There really is some lovely imagery in this novel.

We thought the fact that Maddy’s mother had been estranged from Nana for so long was a little odd.  It seemed to some of us that Maddy’s family had been away for a long time with no real reason – there was no significant event to trigger such an absolute absence.  We would have like to have known more about why they left in the first place.

One of the elements that surprised us was that the protagonist, Maddy, was younger than she appears on the cover.  Whilst it is a beautiful cover, some of us felt that the girl on the front looked older than 10 and it was a little misleading. This novel certainly shows strong character development and growth appropriate for the 9+ age group.  We thought it would have the greatest appeal to year 5 and up readers.  At the BWF Ananda Braxton-Smith mentioned she was going to write another novel with these characters and we look forward to reading more of Maddy’s story in the sequel.