Be careful what you wish for . . .
Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long lost half brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London, where he belongs.
Then Andi's biggest wish comes true and she's minutes away from becoming someone's little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he'll turn out to be tall and just as mad as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he's tall all right. But he's not just tall ... he's a GIANT.
In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay looks like a small unprepossessing book - something you might pick up as a snack read between heftier volumes.
Yes, it's small but for all its smallness it packs quite a punch. I read it a few weeks ago and I've not been able to stop talking to friends about it and I've not been able to stop thinking about it. I don't know why. Some books just have this bit of magic about them and Tall Story has a lot of magic.
Andi is a skinny small eleven year old kid who no one really notices except for the fact that she is an ace basketball player, tiny size notwithstanding. There is more to Andi than slouchy clothes and grumbling. She has a big heart, she has a heart the size of a giant, in fact and I had the impression that if Andi could, she'd be punching holes in the sky. Her voice is big, clear and lovely. I fell in love with her immediately. Here is a strong heroine who keeps believing, no matter what. She gets her parents, she gets her mum and she understand her mum's heartbreak at not having her oldest with her. By this I mean Bernardo, who is the Tall in the title.
When Barnardo was very small, a baby still, his mum had to leave him behind in the Philippines as she couldn't afford to look after him in London, which is where she relocated to. For many many years she's been trying to bring him across to live with her and Andi and Andi's dad. For many years she's been failing. But eventually the true news came through - Bernardo can come and live with them. Fantastical excitement ensues.
But Mum's family have kept a secret from her. They didn't actually ever tell her quite how big Bernardo's grown. Eventually, they came clean but Andi's mum never tells Andi quite how tall her big brother is. Not until she sees him at the airport for the first time. And he's eight foot tall!
The story moves from Andi's point of view, to Bernardo's. It tells the story of the past, it tells the story of the present.
Ms. Gourlay manages to write fluidly, taking us deeper into both Andi and Bernardo's stories. She shows great empathy writing Bernardo's story, the story of a boy who unexpectedly starts growing. Who is maybe not the fastest or the most intelligent but someone who is inherently kind and generous. Tied in with Bernardo and the area he lives in, is the legend of another Bernardo, someone who had become a legend in his own lifetime, many years before. Everyone in Bernardo's village is now convinced that Bernardo is the new Bernardo and well, this entails me doing a reveal about who Bernardo really is, but I won't go there. The mythology is so deftly woven throughout the storyline you don't for a second mis-believe it. Cleverly making use of religion and long ago beliefs we are presented with a very clear picture of this tiny part of the Philippines.
Andi's story is less big, if you excuse the unintended pun. Her struggle is more internal and her story would be an easy one to overlook but the author makes very sure that this doesn't happen. She imbues Andi with a life and vividness that is vibrant and real. We feel Andi's success as she is chosen to be part of a basketball team, how she never ever misses her drops into the basket, we feel for her when it transpires that they have to move and the realisation that she has to give up this brand new place in a team. We empathise with her when at the new school she wants to try out for the team but they don't take on girls.
Throw a freak of a big brother into the mix and Andi's life is hell, especially when her parents leave her to mind her brother as they have to take extra shifts at work.
Obviously I'm not going to reveal how the story pans out but it is deliciously wonderful and uplifting and it made me laugh and cry at the same time. I definitely think that David Fickling Books have a winner on their hands and I hope that Tall Story makes a big splash because it genuinely does deserve it. Small in size, but big in impact, Tall Story won't leave a dry eye in the house. It's so many things but mostly it's powerful storytelling at its best.