Are we producing too much plastic? In this new mystery story by Susie Bower, the versatile material is much more than an ecological concern; it is virtually a source of evil.
Ophelia Bottom has an issue with fitting in and making friends. Her parents are travelling actors, performing the Bard’s work from their beat-up old van in small towns around the country. Ophelia spends her mornings being home-schooled (mostly in the dramatic subjects of English literature and theatre) by her long-suffering and risk-averse ‘Ma’ – who mostly speaks in italics. The rest of her day is spent helping her Ma and ‘Ar’ (an insufferable servant to the arts who MOSTLY speaks in capitals) by learning lines, stitching costumes and painting props. She longs to settle down and go to school, where she might learn maths, and science and, most of all, meet some friends.
When the trio arrive in the small seaside town of Stopford, they are struck with a severe case of bad luck (the result, arguably, of Ophelia mentioning the name of ‘the Scottish play’). A broken leg and the alarmingly hostile welcome from the locals, means that Ophelia’s family must – at least temporarily – become Stopford denizens.
The everyday problems of finding school and work put their strain on the family, and Ophelia has to seek the help of new friends to try and prevent her parents from drifting apart. This is made virtually impossible by the angry and violent treatment they receive from Stopford residents, all of whom work for Professor Potkettle in the plastic factory. They revel in the town’s motto: ‘plastic is fantastic; different is dangerous’ and seek to mould the Bottoms into their own model, or to expel them.
There is a great deal of mystery for Ophelia to uncover, and she suspects sinister motives behind the town’s relentless pursuit of plastic production, and reckless approach to its disposal. In an increasingly tense and subversive third act, characters’ bonds of family and friendship are stretched to snapping point, and Ophelia has to be brave enough to accept that standing out and being different might not be the worst thing in the world after all.
The ecological messages of the story – though oversimplified at times – remain powerful throughout, without upstaging the engaging mystery and enjoyable pace of the narrative. Ophelia’s courage and resilience are endearing and her willingness to poke gentle fun at herself and her family make her very enjoyable company. Readers will eagerly race through the pages in order to keep up with her.