The Year the Maps Changed, by Danielle Binks
This is a beautifully written and researched novel which will appeal to readers from middlegrade upwards. The highlight of this book for me is the voice of the narrator, eleven-year-old Fred (also known as Winifred or Freddo), which is at turns knowingly wise and achingly vulnerable. Fred shares the story of a year in her life in which she learns to navigate change – both in her family, and in the wider world. Her Pop and her adoptive father Luca have raised her since her mother died, but now Luca’s girlfriend Anika has moved in with her son Sam, changing the dynamic of their family unit. Not only that – but Anika is expecting a baby. It’s no wonder that Fred is starting to feel '…a little out of frame, or off the map completely.'
But things are about to change even more for Fred when a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to Australia and resettled not far from where Fred lives. The refugees impact on Fred’s life in unexpected ways and highlight the reality that ‘morality doesn’t always equal legality’ and that, in the end, we must follow our own moral compass.
This is a book about family and friendship and learning to navigate new maps and pathways. I love how references to geography and maps are woven throughout the narrative, so that reading the book is in itself like following a map, a journey that illuminates the importance of love and family and learning to be kind.
Fred’s teacher Mr Khouri is a wonderful character, who encourages his students to always follow their curiosity. Through Mr Khouri, Fred starts to learn that it is our individual journeys, and the choices we make along the way, that define who we are as human beings.
I particularly love how Fred’s own intimate story of loss and grief and adjusting to changing family and friendship dynamics is set against the broader story of the grief and loss experienced by refugees forced to flee their homes.
This book may encourage readers to further investigate not only further details about Operation Safe Haven, but also Australia’s current refugee policy. It is books like these that plant the seeds of awareness and knowledge in our young readers and potentially empower them to campaign for change.
Highly recommended for both home and school libraries.