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Saturday, 27 July 2019

Review: The Art of Taxidermy

Charlotte is twelve and fascinated by death and decay. At school she is called a freak. Only Jeffrey, an Indigenous boy in her class, understands her. Both are outcasts. Both are shattered by grief.

Charlotte lives with ghosts. Her sister Annie drowned at six years old in her Oma’s dam. Since then, Annie’s ghost accompanies Charlotte everywhere. 

Her mother died in childbirth and remains a ghostly shadow in Charlotte’s memory. Her father’s twin brother also dies. 

More ghosts than living occupy the family’s lives. In Father’s and Oma’s memory, Loveday Internment camp for enemy aliens houses even more ghosts.

As her father refuses to speak about her mother or the past, Charlotte has no roots from which to draw strength and direction. She finds comfort in searching for dead things that she can restore and renew. 

This pursuit is horrendous to her Aunt Hilda who is trying to fill the space that her mother left behind. Father simply accepts that Charlotte has inherited his taxidermy genes.

These ‘unnatural’ interests are allegories for Charlotte’s longing to reclaim any part of her mother that she can. As her mother’s room is untouched since her passing, Charlotte secretly enters this sacred realm, to dress in mother’s clothes and take what she can to wear beneath her own. But it’s mother’s fox stole that is her lifeline; her embrace. She wears it everywhere, even to school.

Things come to a head when Aunt Hilda burns her ‘ghoulish’ specimens and removes all trace of mother from the house, an act which forces reaction in her grief-stricken father.

The stylish and pared back prose is immaculate and impressive. Themes of grief, loss and renewal are vivid exhibits. This is a book not to be missed.

Shortlisted for the Children's Book Council of Australia, 2019, Australian Book Design Awards, 2019, Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature and more, The Art of Taxidermy set in post war 60s, is a stunning verse novel full of tragedy, yet full of hope. It touches upon and alludes frequently to, the internment camps that housed Australian Germans from WW2 from various states in Victoria. This compels readers to rethink the physical and emotional outcomes of war.

Title: The Art of Taxidermy
Author: Sharon Kernot
Publisher: Text Publishing, $19.99
Publication Date: 2 July 2019
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781925603743
For ages: 14+
Type: Verse Young Adult Fiction

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