The Golden Day by Ursula Dubosarsky; Candlewick Press, 160 pages, ($15.99). Ages 12 and up.
This beautifully written and suspenseful novel is a coming-of-age tale of a very different kind, with a mysterious dreamlike quality reminiscent of Peter Weir’s haunting 1975 film “Picnic at Hanging Rock” (a movie the author refers to her in her afterword). Eleven schoolgirls in 1967 Sydney, Australia, go on a clandestine field trip with their teacher, Miss Renshaw, and a gardener named Morgan to look at aboriginal art in a seaside cave. The panicked girls leave the dark cave together but Miss Renshaw never emerges. The girls go back to school, silent about where they last saw their teacher, until one belatedly tells all. Information about Morgan’s past surfaces; a new teacher is assigned the class and Miss Renshaw’s chalkboard is wiped clean, leaving the narrator, a schoolgirl named Cubby, to wonder: Did her teacher scrawl “Not now, Not ever” on the board or not? The story then jumps ahead to graduation in 1975, the girls all changed by the trauma of the disappearance. This acclaimed Australian author takes her chapter titles from paintings and drawings of schoolgirls by Charles Blackman, and her tale beautifully evokes the loneliness of childhood, the claustrophobic confines of a girls school and the dark turbulence of the world outside, with the Vietnam War raging. In one particularly evocative scene, Cubby and her friend Icara borrow a rowboat for a trip down river past an abandoned amusement park with spooky decaying figures of fairy tale characters, based, the author says, on an actual abandoned amusement park in Sydney. Dubosarsky says she was inspired by her own school experience except that “all my teachers came home safe and sound in the end.”
– Jean Westmoore