Title: The Year the Maps Changed
Year: 1999 (Sorrento, Victoria)
Compass: Head south to locate the official synopsis of this debut middle grade novel by Danielle Binks.
Fred’s family is a mess. Her mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop’s had to go away, and Luca’s girlfriend Anika and her son, Sam, have moved in. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.
Even as things feel like they’re spinning out of control for Fred, a crisis from the other side of the world comes crashing in. When a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to a government ‘safe haven’ not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family in ways that no one could have expected.
❤️ = This book is full of heart. Fred is such a brilliant main character who is going through a time when there are so many changes to contend with. Not only in her personal life, where she’s dealing with grade six and a family unit that’s evolving into something she’s not quite emotionally ready for. But in the wider world around her too. Fred can be stubborn and put her foot in it at times, but she’s also empathetic, kind and has a strong moral compass.
👪 = Fred and her family are fantastic. I was so captivated by all the loving and messy and heartbreaking moments between them. And I love that there are so many different dimensions with the relationships, like Fred’s connection with her Pop, the way she was raised by Luca and how she’s dealing with having Anika and Sam in her life. There’s a great moment right at the start of the novel where Fred is thinking about identity and belonging:
I was named (Winifred) after my nan – Pop’s wife – who I never met. Fred is Pop’s nickname for me, Freddo is Luca’s, and Winnie was Mum’s. I once asked Pop why they couldn’t stick to one name for me, and he said he didn’t know, but maybe they all wanted to have little pieces of me, all to themselves. Lately I’d been wondering what piece Mum took with her when she died, and I’d been thinking about the Winnie I would have been if she hadn’t. (pg. 7)
🌏 = The setting of this novel was such a warm rush of nostalgia for me. I spent many summer holidays as a kid in a Rosebud caravan park, taking trips to places like Sorrento and Rye. But even if you haven’t been to those places the vivid descriptions draw you in regardless. Fred also has her eyes opened to the bigger world around her via school by her favourite teacher, Mr Khouri, and from spending time with refugees from the ‘safe haven’. I won’t spoil any plot points, but I was particularly taken by the kind-hearted and protective friendship Fred forms with a lady called Nora.
Map Scale: 1 chapter = infinity things you’ll find yourself enjoying. Seriously, there’s happiness, there’s tears (quite a few!), there are great friendships, nostalgic heartstring tugs for older readers but equally an intriguing look back at a decade for the core middle grade readership, gentle insights into the power of compassion, and of course a complex and evolving family unit in the centre of it all.
Dani has been such a champion for the book community for so long now, especially in her role as a literary agent, so I’m absolutely stoked for her that she has her own debut novel out in the world. It’s one that will definitely stay on the children’s literary map for years to come.