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Tuesday 5 September 2023

Review: The First Summer of Callie McGee

A L Tait makes an impressive departure from her usual historical/fantasy writing, with this thoroughly engaging contemporary middle-grade novel.

Calliope-Jean Maree McGee is about to start high school. It’s not the selective high school that her mother wanted her to attend, and that’s just fine by this tween who is keen to lose her reputation as the brainy, quiet one, and equally keen to lose her cumbersome name.

 So, this ritual annual family friends’ holiday is going to be her opportunity to become just plain Callie, and be ready to start Birchwood High, with the other kids in the traditional summer group. She’s not helped by her hovering and restrictive mother, but she is determined, and finds an unlikely ally in the newest addition to the pack of kids, Owen.

 Callie and Owen have quite a bit in common, and the chance to solve the mystery of the recent spate of thefts in their holiday home neighbourhood proves a real chance to bond even further, despite having long-time annoyance, Mitch, also involved.

Older friend Sasha is far more interested in pursuing the cute boy she met on the beach, and there is considerable friction between the two girls. But when Sasha goes missing after sneaking out, it is Callie’s resourcefulness, resilience and rational response that saves the day.

 Navigating the tricky passage from child to young adult is never easy and with the added pressure of a helicopter parent and the pressure of expectations on an only (and bright) child, even more difficult. Callie’s experience and concerns will no doubt strike a chord with many readers, even if they are not in exactly the same position. For many young people, this is a period of self-doubt and a struggle to establish their own identity and individuality. Their traverse, from child to teen and primary to secondary school, as they grow towards adulthood and independence is both a challenge for self, and for the parent/s - and for many in this ‘only child’ category even more fraught with difficulties.

The mystery of the burglaries will fully engage readers, and they will enjoy putting the clues together, while simultaneously making connections with their own burgeoning personalities. There will also be many who recognise the lame dad jokes, the annoying friends (almost like siblings) and the often dreary aspects of such group holidays – same same every year – and who will fully empathise with Callie, as she struggles out of her childhood cocoon. The water in a rip current is always calmer than the waves on either side. Once in it, you’re best just to go with the flow. Lucky Callie knows that despite that, you still need to strike out and get through it to safety.

Highly recommended for readers from around 11 years upwards.

Title: The First Summer of Callie McGee
Author: A L Tait
Publisher: Scholastic Australia. $15.99
Date of Publication: 1 August 2023
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781760260163
For Ages: 11+
Type: Middle Grade Fiction