Narrated in a diary format by 15-year-old Emily this beautifully told story charts an impossibly difficult year in her family with great delicacy and a raw honesty.
Twins Emily and Alex live with their father in a remote area of the Australian bush. Over the years their father has reforested the farmstead with native trees and plants giving a home to the wild animals of the area and especially the indigenous birds. Already the largest manna gum tree is populated by a huge flock of colourful lorikeets that Emily and her father particularly adore. This tree is also where Alex and their father have built a treehouse as a lookout post.
When her father is diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour the twins take the news in completely different ways. Alex refuses to accept the truth, retreating into a world of his own where he believes if he continues to build rooms onto the tree house this will magically save his father. Emily, the more pragmatic of the two is left to deal with the dreadful reality on her own but encouraged by her teacher starts to wite her story as a diary.
Alex is desperate to keep one of the feral kittens found under their house but is told he can’t keep one as it would hunt the birds and other wildlife. Much to Emily’s disgust Alex manages to sneak his favourite kitten up to his treehouse before the other kittens are taken away by local ranger, Matthew to be rehomed. Alex names the kitten Ditto and she soon becomes doted on by both Alex and his father. At first Ditto is confined to the house but one day the inevitable happens and she escapes, soon returning with a half deal lorikeet in her mouth.
The animosity between the twins threatens to overwhelm them as they vehemently voice their own opinions on the natural world and who should take precedence – the cat or the birds. Emily begins to unravel too and doesn’t quite know how to deal with her burgeoning feelings for Matthew. Meanwhile their father is getting sicker and wants his children to be reconciled. A near-disaster brings the family together and the strong bonds between brother and sister are reconfirmed.
This powerful and heartfelt novel packs a lot into the spare and resonant prose but is never mawkish or sentimental. It is a book to savour and talk about and will remain long in the mind.