'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Review: Bushfire

The fires were devastating to so many individuals, families and communities, with 173 people falling victim to the flames, 5,000 injured, over 2,000 homes destroyed, as well as all the farmlands, properties and animals involved. The worst fires in Victoria’s history left death and destruction in their wake, with thousands of people left to heal and begin their lives again.

Mellor’s novel, Bushfire, aims to help teenagers and parents in their struggle to come to terms with the effects of fire, rebuild their lives, grieve for loved ones and, most of all, to just survive the whole thing.

Her realistic narrative takes us along as Ruby and her parents experience the fire, fighting to protect their property and themselves amidst this danger. They then discover that not everyone in their community has had the same luck. Mellor shows us the power of people sticking together, friendships and families going back to their most basic survival skills as they help each other come to terms with the lives they must now say goodbye to, and move onto the new existence they need to begin.

We are shown the admirable work of volunteers within such organisations as the CFA and the Red Cross, the ways in which grief is faced and the ways in which nightmares and ongoing fear grab hold of the minds of the survivors. This is not an experience that is quickly forgotten or recovered from, and Mellor gives us a realistic account of this process.

Her background as a social worker and counsellor, in addition to being based in country Victoria and experiencing the terror of a bushfire in 2002, gives her an intriguing insight into the lives of those affected by Black Saturday.

For me, as a Victorian living in a bushfire-prone area (not affected by Black Saturday), this book had a profound effect. The quick, short, paragraphs of the novel, combined with the quick lead-in to the fire reminded me of the actual events of that weekend. The fires spread with unprecedented speed, leaving everyone in shock with the announcements and statistics being broadcast by local radio stations.

Bushfire brings fire into the story just as quickly and, whilst knowing it is coming, the reader is left feeling a little unprepared for the speed of it all. This mirrors the sequence of events on the actual day.

This is an important novel that helps readers face the grief and suffering, followed by the eventual healing process, involved in a tragedy like Black Saturday. An accompanying guide for parents is available free online (bushfirebook.com.au), as are the contact details for organisations who can help people deal with difficulties and prepare for bushfires.

Title: Bushfire
Author: Elizabeth Mellor
Publisher: The Awakening Network (Palmer Higgs), $17.95
Format: Paperback
Language: English
ISBN: 9780646528915
For ages: Teen to young adult
Type: Fiction
About: The bushfires that raged through Victoria in February 2009 began on a day of extreme heat and catastrophic fire conditions amidst a drought, now known as Black Saturday.

Read Megan's interview with Elizabeth Mellor here.