Thursday, May 27, 2010

Reading Travels: with Colin from rural Australia to Buckingham Palace and back

Two Weeks with the QueenColin is your average twelve year old bloke. He likes to play cricket, climbs on trees and once, he had borrowed his friend’s bike and rode it in a ditch. This Christmas he is disappointed because (a) he did not get the gift he asked for but a new pair of shoes and (b) his brother got exactly what he wanted – a new model plane. Colin is a little envious of his younger brother Luke luck -as the youngest he got spoiled much more often and had fewer responsibilities. Because Colin is only an average older brother…until... Until Luke falls ill.

Luke’s illness changed everything, especially after he got transferred to the big hospital in Sydney and his family was told that his cancer is incurable. It is then when his parents decide to send him temporally to stay with his maternal uncle and aunt in a London Suburb. Because, they believe that this way they could spare him the pain of seeing his brother die slowly. And if Colin accepts to leave is only because he believes that once in London he can get an audience to the Queen and her Majesty will get the best doctor in the world and send him to save Luke.

Once in London, Colin begins to realize that things and people are not always what they seemed to be from far. For example, in the eyes of his British uncle the Queen is not as majestic as she seemed during her speech on the telie, back home, in Australia. He also learns that single children who get too much attention from their parents like his cousin Alistair are not necessarily happier. He realizes that is not quite that easy to break in the Buckingham Palace and that important looking doctors are not necessarily the kindest or the best. Most important, as he tries to help his new friend Ted take care of his dying lover Griff, he realizes that good friends can be more important and powerful than majestic personalities and definitely much more supportive during hard times. So, when Ted is roughened up by some local gang for being a “queen”, he starts visiting Griff in the hospital by himself. At least until his friend can get back on his feet. During these hospital visits, Colin learns what it is maybe his most important lesson. Patients that had their families around them were happier and more hopeful. No matter what the outcome of Luke’s illness will be, it is more important for him to have his brother Colin, by his side rather than chasing for some miracle cure thousands and thousands miles away…

“Two weeks with the Queen” by Morris Gleitzman reiterates the story of the ingenuity of a child as opposed to our adult, reasonable beliefs which are often weighted down by prejudices. The theme is also central to classic stories such as “The New Clothes of the Emperor” and “ The Little Prince”. It is the naïve child who discovers the true meaning of things in his innocence, meaning that remains hidden to us because our bias laden minds. This is why most adults cannot take Colin too seriously and their reaction to his openness is either embarrassed silence or cold detachment.

Gleitzman’s approach to the subject is set apart by the author’s unique sense of humor as well as the contemporary issues he is addressing such as:  children, terminal illnesses and gay relationships. When confronted with these issues most adults react awkwardly - an embarrassing silence, coldness, rejection or exaggerated kindness and concern. Perhaps, as adults, we only perceive the world through the limitation of our own stereotypes: there are proper versus improper ways to behave and react for each situation. An elephant digesting a boa constrictor couldn’t possibly look like a hat. This is why, when real life events reveal to use contrary ways to the ones we came to live our life by, the best we can do is be silent. And it should not come as a surprise to the reader that among the few adults who can respond properly to Colin’s real wishes and needs are Ted and Griff. Ted’s love for his partner is considered to be “outside the norm” so he is used to look for human kindness and value beyond appearances. And, on the other side, this is why uncle Bob and his wife, a typical middle class couple that spends many weekends in the big hardware superstore for DYI enthusiasts will never be able to understand him.

The publisher recommends the book for children 11 to 14. My recommendation : YA and adult readers may enjoy the book as well as it offers a nice alternative perspective on the “what is proper and what not “subject.

Reading this book was my way to celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia (May 17) and a as gesture , expressing my  gratitude towards my friends N. and  O.


Julie said...

Hi, Ana. I always enjoy your reviews very much, because they open up new books and worlds for me to discover. While I was reading this one, it sounded like a story I would want to read myself. It is sad but very compelling (and has important themes). Thank you!

Ana said...

As a mother I enjoy reading books that approach “taboo” subjects like these form a child’s perspective. It is most difficult to tell children about a loved one getting sick and dying and spare them that pain…but after reading this book I understood that an open dialogue is better than silence.

Paul said...

Morris Gleitzman is a fine Australian writer. Very glad to see us getting a mention here in your wonderful blog.

Ana said...

I agree Paul. I really enjoyed it even though it was a children's book.