Mr Luna is a widower who lives with his two children Martha, aged 11, and five-year-old Christopher, known as ‘Tug’. The burden of responsibility on Martha is great. Not only must she look after herself and her little brother, but her father is accident-prone and frequently needs her assistance. At the local swimming pool Mr Luna befriends a lady named Olivia and her daughter Laura. He invites them to lunch. It is noticeable that during the lunch Mr Luna often leaves the table, and launches disjointed conversations when he returns. Olivia and Laura spot the pattern. Olivia’s late husband was an alcoholic too.
The truth must at all costs be kept from the maternal grandparents and from social services. Martha seeks advice from the family doctor, who agrees to put her father in touch with an adviser. But he warns her to take no further action: she’s just too young to shoulder the burden.
Matters go from bad to worse when the children find their father out cold on the floor next to a broken bottle. He makes an effort to improve, but falls into the hands of the authorities when he crashes his car. The children have to move to the house of their grandparents. The remainder of the book sets out to answer this question: can the family be reunited?
This is a bleak scenario, a tale of compulsive drunkenness. One of Mason’s most appealing skills however is his ability to lighten the tone. He uses characters such as the flamboyant young maker of short films, Marcus Brown, with whom Martha joyfully collaborates. The book is rich in intertextuality, referencing books Martha and her brother are reading such as Little Women and A Little Princess, and versions of films Martha is making with Marcus. Where the narratives of films are complex enough to test the comprehension of young readers, Marcus patiently explains the nuances to Tug, and the reader follows.
One flaw in this otherwise admirable book arises from the characterization of Martha. It is part of her life story that she must be mature beyond her years. But in truth she behaves with a degree of maturity that simply rings false for a girl of 11.