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BookBrowse Reviews Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

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Tall Story

by Candy Gourlay

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay X
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2011, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Ellis Smith
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A quirky first novel for older children that explores the clash of two very different cultures, Ages 10+

Thirteen-year-old Andi lives in London. Bernardo, her sixteen-year-old half-brother, lives in the Philippines. But he has finally received his immigration papers and is moving in with Andi and her parents. The two siblings could not be more different. Andi is short and basketball-crazy. She's good at it too, better than the boys even. And she is outspoken. Bernardo, on the other hand, is taller than tall. He can barely walk down a flight of stairs without tripping and falling. And he is quiet. The list goes on and on. But in a poignant scene about three-quarters of the way through Tall Story, after Bernardo has come from the Philippines to live in London, Andi truly looks at him for the first time and sees that she and her brother are maybe not so different after all: "I realized with a start that our eyes were the same colour - hazelly, browny, with a sunburst of dark streaks and black pupils that magnified to deep black wells and shrank to tiny pinpoints with the changes in light."

In an interview about Tall Story, Candy Gourlay says, "I hope children... will realize that there is no such thing as Us and Them because we are, all of us, just people." Her stunning debut novel is funny, heartbreaking, and smart. But more than anything it is, indeed, the perfect antidote to Us and Them. On multiple levels, Gourlay erases those oh-so familiar lines that get drawn in the sand or the sidewalk. She dismantles the walls that divide people and cultures by telling her story from both Andi and Bernardo's points of view, creating distinctive, quirky, loveable characters that are easy for us to relate to. As we follow them on their respective journeys and see Andi's evolving perceptions of herself and her brother it is easy to feel and believe in her shifting perspective.

There are other, equally natural, ways in which Gourlay weaves people and their cultures together; in particular in her presentation of the concepts of myth and magic. Bernardo fiercely believes in magic. He has to - it is in his bones. It is a belief system built into the very landscape of the Philippines, where he is thought to be the reincarnation of the mythical Filipino giant, Bernardo Carpio. Andi, on the other hand, holds no faith in such systems. She is practical and a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps kind of girl. She, like her brother, is this way by necessity, for this kind of sensible, hard-working mentality is firmly planted in her London landscape. But as Andi and Bernardo journey through their story together, they - and the reader - begin to realize that magic is not so different from wishing, that myth is not so far flung from looking the other way, and that, ultimately, our needs to be at peace with ourselves and to find real connection and safety with others are basic and universal. They burst forth from every landscape on this earth.

Candy Gourlay has a unique and heartful voice. And Tall Story is the kind of book that feels familiar and brand new, all at the same time. It will appeal to a wide middle grade audience - both girls and boys because of its strong dual protagonists - and especially to basketball lovers! It has the ability to connect the reader to him or herself, and also to the incredible, wide world we all live in.

Additional Info
Look for her next book, Shine, due to be published in mid 2012!

Reviewed by Tamara Ellis Smith

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in March 2011, and has been updated for the March 2012 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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