Ellie Clements wrote this book, her debut novel, so that children of colour could find themselves represented, unlike her own childhood experience.
11-year-old Prune, her 15-year-old brother Jesse and their Mum have moved from a flat in an urban tower block into Grandma Jean’s house, after she died. (Dad had disappeared some time ago.) Tall Jesse wants to be a basketball player, and doesn’t see why he needs to go to school, so he has been bunking off, encouraged by his unsavoury friend Bryce, and they have been in trouble: this is a worry for Mum and Prune. Prune is a talented artist, but troubled by the fact that colourful clouds sometimes swirl around her, and although an eye test reveals nothing obviously wrong, this continues. Three girls are mean to her and her new friend Doug, and one day, after being called ‘alienhead’, she shuts herself in the toilet and cries that she wants to be taken away from the school, drawing a hot-air balloon in her sketchbook with her colours around her. When this comes to life in the playground, it’s a tremendous shock, as the drawing in her book has disappeared, though she knows it’s identical. She tries bringing other things to life, like popcorn, but finds that it can be difficult to control what she comes to realise is a superpower. She tries drawing Dad, but the person she brings to life is not really him, and, after she has slimed the bullies and got into trouble herself, Mum tells her not to use her power unless it’s for a very good reason. She sums up the courage to report the bullies’ behaviour, and the school staff take action. When it seems that Jesse is going to get into serious criminal trouble, she is able to help with her drawing, and Jesse settles down.
The relationships are lovely – Jesse and Prune may annoy each other and tease each other, but it’s clear that there is genuine love and support there. Mum has to work long hours and has lots of worries, but the family unit is solid, and this is well described. We can hope for more from this new author.