Whalesong by Kate Gordon

“There is no now and no then, only in between and always. Open the box. Come and see.”

CBCA Award-winning author Kate Gordon, is one of my favourite authors. Everything I have read of hers, I have loved – for her beautiful, lyrical prose, and for her insight into human beings, our mental health and our relationships. I reviewed her book, Aster’s Good Right Things, here, which was a brilliant read.

I was waiting with anticipation to get my hands on a copy of her new middle-grade novel, Whalesong, in which main character Aberdeen Knopwood, travels on a time-slip adventure, through the cobbled streets of Hobart. I was lucky to receive an ARC and read it in a couple of days.

With Kate’s signature prose dancing through the pages, this story sings a song to the power of each of us to make a difference, to the power of friendship, self-belief, and of never giving up. Kate invites you to ‘walk the cobbled streets of Hobart in the early 19th century, exploring our desire to change our world for the better, and the enduring legacy–both good and bad–of those who came before.’

Main character Aberdeen lives in current day Hobart, in her bold and interesting family. She loves her hometown and her best friend Vera, whose family has roots in Tasmania, ‘all the way down.’ Vera is fiesty and bold and speaks out for what matters, whereas Aberdeen’s flame burns inside of her. Aberdeen needs Vera, she is lost without her. But Vera has gone on an adventure at sea, and Aberdeen feels alone. She feels like she doesn’t fit in, at her school and in her life. She believes she has no power to make an impact in the world, despite her ‘deep desire to help save the planet and to express the passion for the environment, which burns underneath her skin.’

When Aberdeen’s journalist father, who is filled with facts and information and passion for history, gifts her an antique chronometer, it magically leads her to another girl, in another time, who also knows and loves Hobart. This girl lives in a very different place, one where ‘the stone buildings aren’t yet mellowed to soft golds, sea shanties echo from tall sailing ships, and men armed with harpoons hunt whales in the harbour. This girl knows something that Aberdeen is yet to discover: one person really can make a difference.’

This is the second of Kate’s novels with the word, ‘song’ in the title and this is a very apt way to describe her prose. When reading her books, I am struck by the sense of rhythm and musicality, and at the same time, she writes a cracking tale that keeps you turning the pages. In Whalesong, she uses sea shanties as a tool for connecting Aberdeen through time, to the whales and to her purpose in life. There is a combination of fiction and fact and a satisfying ending to the tale. Kate has deftly blended environmental messages and those related to First Nations People, and more, with a classic time-slip. It is her first foray into historical fiction and it should not be her last. She addresses history with a modern lens, considering the impact of our past on our current times and on our future.

I am a devoted whale lover and whale watching is on my list of the best things to do in life, so the connections Aberdeen has with the whales and the central role they play in this story, stole my heart. The relationship between Aberdeen and the mysterious girl from the past, is lovely and warm and reasssuring, and as they travel on an adventure together, deeper connections between them are revealed.

This story champions the power of young people, in particular girls, to make a difference and to stand up for what they believe in. It upturns the idea of priveleged white men running the world and being ‘celebrated’ in the form of memorials and statues, and in Kate’s own words, was driven by her desire ‘to write a book about time, feminism, the environment and how, in the words of Paul Kelly, “from little things, big things grow”.

A beautiful and important story and one that would be enjoyed by ages 8+ There are some terrible and gripping moments in this story, but they are handled well, and the overall message of this book is hopeful and uplifing. Available from Riveted Press and in all good book stores


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