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Saturday 16 November 2013

Review: Pan's Whisper

Pan Harper is rebellious, brash and damaged. Forced into foster care, she refuses to accept the kindness shown to her by her foster parents and resists the restrictions imposed by the teachers at her new school. Pan is sure she understands the events of her past and she is filled with anger directed at her family, especially her older sister and, to a lesser degree, her mother.

However some things aren’t as they seem. Pan’s memories aren’t always accurate and she has misunderstood some important aspects of her past. When she is fighting so hard to suppress those memories that don’t fit with all that she believes about her life, what will it take for her to open up to the possibility that the actions of her sister and mother aren’t what she believes them to be?

An emotionally evocative story, Pan’s Whisper explores the impact of emotional abuse on children, particularly relating to a lack of a stable home environment due to a parent struggling with a mental illness. Pan’s world view is defined by the experiences of her past and the way she relates to everyone she meets is determined by the coping mechanisms her childhood forced her to develop. She is unable to trust and accept friendship and kindness at face value and her low self-esteem leads her to blame herself for every mistake and misunderstanding.

I found Pan’s Whisper to be an emotionally confronting story as I empathised with Pan, her sister, her grandparents, her new school friend Hunter, her foster parents, and the other foster children. Pan’s mother was portrayed as a very unsympathetic figure, and it bothered me that I didn’t feel the same sense of hurt and connection with her that I did with the other characters.

There are two characters with bipolar disorder within the novel and both are portrayed in an almost completely negative sense as unreliable, volatile, manipulative and emotionally damaging to those around them, especially their children. I have several bipolar friends who are loving, encouraging parents and I found this one-sided approach to the portrayal of people with this mental health disorder disappointing, particularly when the rest of the book showed a great deal of emotional empathy for what the characters were experiencing.

Despite this disappointment, I did enjoy Pan’s Whisper and it can’t be denied that the experiences of Pan, her sister and the other foster children are sadly all too real in many situations, whether because of mental health or other issues. This story certainly offers plenty of food for thought and insight into the emotional scars and painful healing process for children subjected to emotionally chaotic family situations.

Pan’s Whisper was shortlisted for the 2012 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards and recently won the Australian Family Therapists’ Award for Children’s Literature. There are teacher’s notes available for this book.

Title: Pan's Whisper
Author: Sue Lawson
 Publisher: Black Dog Books, $18.95 RRP
Publication Date: 1 October 2011
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781742032061
For ages: 13+
Type: Young Adult