Tensions implicit in parent-child relationships underpin Bertagna’s novel. At the centre, there is Sapphire, aged 14 and pregnant. Her parents have different views about what the outcome of the pregnancy should be, and her father’s experiences of his own parents influence his attitude. Then there is Gil, a schoolboy who starts fires as release from the memory of his mother who deserted him when he was very young, and whose father has had difficulty coping with the ensuing situation. And there is Grace, the smooth ‘chocolate girl’ who seems to have everything but the love of her mother, and the television presenter desperate for a child, who is prepared to give Sapphire a lot of money in return for her baby. Even the zealous nun, Sister Pi, is influenced in her campaign to save Sapphire’s baby from abortion by her own foundling status as a baby.
All of this is set against a hot summer in the suburbs. The opening scenes are the strongest in the book. Bertagna has carefully built a feeling of overwhelming heat and a stifling atmosphere where almost anything might happen as young people congregate together on the outskirts of the town waiting and watching for the latest outbreak of fire.
Bertagna works hard to show the different directions in which Sapphire is pulled as she tries to come to terms with her own previously barely understood sexuality and its consequence. At times her efforts to present all these different perspectives, and those of the adults involved too, strains the narrative and narrowly avoids didacticism. Overall this is a brave novel which sharply captures the turmoil of a young girl caught in a terrifying situation.