My Brother Ben, by Peter Carnavas
You know how sometimes you start reading a book and get that almost instant feeling that it’s going to be the type of book that makes your heart sing?
That’s exactly how I felt when I started reading this beautifully heartfelt book for middle grade readers. I wanted to slow down and savour every sentence.
This gently written story shines a light on the enduring bond between brothers. Luke and his big brother Ben spend their summer days in and around the water at Cabbage Tree Creek - swimming, bird watching and dreaming of winning their own boat. Luke quietly makes sketches of the birds he sees. Ben fearlessly leaps off tree branches into the water. Their days are filled with sunshine and shared dreams, but when Ben starts highschool and makes a new friend, Luke starts to feel like Ben is drifting away from him.
Ben has always told Luke to trust him – but suddenly Ben is full of secrets and silences.
One night Luke decides to follow when he catches Ben sneaking out of the house, and it is at that point, in the middle of the night, that things will come to a head. Will Luke find a way to restore the bond with his beloved older brother?
This is one of those books that you quickly realise is something special – from the tenderly depicted scenes of family life to the shimmering prose. I also adored the little sketches of birds scattered through the narrative, a nod to the sketches of birds Luke engages in throughout the story.
I love the way birds are used as important allegories in the story to reflect themes of loss, belonging, searching for identity, trust, being brave and connection. Maggie the magpie’s sudden disappearance is an effective allegory for the splintered bond between Luke and Ben – the loss of Maggie coinciding with Ben drifting away. Likewise, Luke’s feelings of connection to the ‘vagrant’ bird he hears calling, but cannot find, reflects Luke’s feelings of being lost and out of place.
Issues of fractured families, loss and identity are handled with a gentle assurance.
Kids aged about 8 years and upwards will love this book because it has such heart and hope, and there are some delightful moments of fun and humour between the two brothers that many will relate to. There are also some elements of mystery and adventure, which will ensure young readers are completely captivated.
We are compelled to want to keep reading this engaging story of brotherly love, so that we can revel in the warmth it emanates.
Published by UQP