Don't judge a book by the cover they say. But how else do you judge it before you read it? And this one is so pretty, the colours so enticing, I was going to want to read it regardless of the CBCA nomination status. The Simple Things was Shortlisted for the Book of the Year Younger Readers 2015.
The Simple Things is a sweet, beguiling story. Stephen Kelly is ten years old. He's a bit of an awkward kid. An only child. He's shy, anxious, sensitive, not a risk taker. Imagine how pleased he is to arrive at his great aunt's house for a three week stay. Steve has never met his Aunt Lola before.
Ever since I can remember, at Christmas and on my birthday, Aunty Lola has sent me her love and ten dollars She's really my great-aunt, but her Christmas and birthday hards always say 'Love from Aunty Lola'. I've never met her before because she lives a long way from my home in the city. To me the most real things about her is that tend dollars. I always write back to say thanks, as soon as Mum reminds me. But I never send her any love. I don't want to lie. How can you love someone you don't know? You can't, not even for ten dollars, twice a year.
They've exchanged cards before, but now there she is, expecting to be hugged. Could there be anything more daunting than an unknown, severe looking maiden great aunt?
And I don't want to make Aunty Lola feel bad. But I'm shy. You can't switch that off like a light. It's stuck on tight. I don't like hugging, except if it's Mum.
Not a lot happens in this gentle story. Stephen gets to know his rather curmudgeonly aunt.
'You don't have parties at my age. You have funerals.'
These two unlikely friends do develop a bond with time, and there are some minor intrigues- what is in the room that Aunty Lola keeps under lock and key? And what rift has occurred with her neighbour Mr Smith?
One particular scene will stay with me for some time. Mr Smith the neighbour doesn't join in the fishing with the children. Mr Smith describes an incident from his youth, when he and his brother were "gun-crazy".
'I saw a bird land on a branch. Amazing colours it had. I didn't think twice. Took aim, squeezed the trigger- Bang!'And then
'Well, before I fired, it was beautiful. Glorious. A moment later, as I stood over it, I saw all of its colour disappearing. It happened right in front of my eyes, Stephen. Its feathers became a washed-out, dirty grey colour. It was nothing but ugly. A pice of rubbish.'
Bill Condon was a new author to me. I'm interested in reading more of his work.