Joy Cowley writes a beautiful account of two young digital natives – Melissa (14) and William (11) who must overcome their primordial sense of fear when faced with no electricity after being sent to their grandparents’ bach (holiday home) to help out in return for cash. To top off their horror at this unexpected trip, they encounter a cupboard full of mouse-poo, no running water and an outhouse full of spiders. The children battle with their surroundings and their grandparents who, despite constant squabbling and ill health, manage to entice the children to help out and learn new skills.
Cowley creates a world that is rich with love, humour and New Zealand goodness – and is a treasure to read. The only dunger (*anything out of date or useless) that must be addressed is the stereotypical gender roles that the children end up playing out. William learns to drive, fix and fish whilst Melissa learns to cook, roll wool and look at family photos. These activities are empowering for the children yet, in celebrating traditional values and learning of skills, it’s a shame that these roles could not have been expanded to go beyond narrow perceptions of gender.