The Red Shoe by Ursula Dubosarsky

‘Will you read me a story?’

Over ten days, between Sunday 11 April 1954 and Easter Tuesday 20 April 1954, this story introduces big events into the lives of three sisters on the outskirts of Sydney.

‘In a house far away, right at the end of a long dusty road deep in the bush at the back of Palm Beach, lived three sisters with their mother, their father, and sometimes their Uncle Paul.  The three sisters were called Elizabeth, Frances and Matilda.’

Mostly we see the story through Matilda’s point of view which, as Matilda is only six, provides an interesting perspective.  Frances is eleven and Elizabeth is fifteen.  Each day is heralded in with news headlines, so we read about new cases in the polio epidemic and the Petrov Affair.  Against this backdrop, Frances worries about a school friend with polio, Elizabeth wonders about Mrs Petrov and Matilda observes all manner of things.

This is a beautifully written book.  I loved the way that six-year-old Matilda could observe so much without always being able to make sense of what she saw.  I felt for Frances and hoped that Elizabeth would be okay.  I worried about the girls’ father and wondered about how much the mother relied on Uncle Paul.  I really enjoyed the news headlines and how Ms Dubosarsky built aspects of those stories into this book.

There are some lovely scenes, and some near tragic ones.  I think that this book does a really good job of bringing aspects of living in 1954 to life.  But don’t take my word for it, read it for yourself.  It’s a book written for a young audience (I’d suggest 12 and older), with several quite serious themes.  But it’s also a book that those of us who are older can relate to.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith