quippe (quippe) wrote in bookish,

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay

The Blurb On The Back:

What you want is not always what you get.

Even when your wishes come true.

Andi desperately hopes her long lost half-brother Bernardo will be as mad on basketball as she is. But when he steps off the plane from the Philippines, she can’t believe her eyes. She hasn’t seen him for ten years, but even so, how did he get to be EIGHT FOOT TALL? An eight-foot tall boy who is about to crash into her life with his size 22 feet.

But Bernardo is not what he seems. Bernardo is a hero, Bernardo works miracles, and Bernardo has an amazing story to tell.

Andi’s a 12-year-old basketball fanatic who dreams of playing point guard but is considered too short. Her half-brother Bernardo lives with his aunt and uncle in San Andrea, a small village in the Philippines. Bernardo’s waited for years for a visa so he can join his mother, step-father and half-sister in Britain. One day, it finally arrives.

However Bernardo, his aunt and uncle have been keeping a secret from Andi’s mum. A big secret. Bernardo is 8 feet tall and his village believes that he’s a modern version of Bernardo Carpio – a legendary giant who saved the village from destruction by an earthquake.

Andi’s life is turned upside down by Bernardo’s arrival, not least when she’s moved to a new school – one without a girls’ basketball team. Similarly Bernardo’s trying to come to terms with life in a strange country and his guilt at leaving his village – including best friend Jabby – behind.

Candy Gourlay’s debut novel is a charming tale about accepting differences and superstition. It moves deftly between Bernardo’s move to London and his life in San Andrea a small village riddled with superstition and populated with memorable characters, including best friend (and basketball fan) Jabby and the sinister witch Nena. Gourlay portrays the village with affection and what’s refreshing is the loyalty that Bernardo has to it – even keeping a horrible Velcro suit specially tailored for him.

Bernardo is sweet-natured – gentle, loving, bewildered by his surroundings and struggling to deal with his condition. The betrayal he feels when Jabby wants him to play a basketball match because a giant will sell tickets is very touching, as are his attempts to reach out to the younger half-sister who he cares deeply for. Gourlay shows the problems that his condition creates – both socially and medically – giving him additional poignancy.

Andi is a firecracker – basketball mad, resentful of her brother’s height when she’s so short and frustrated by her mum’s refusal to take her aspirations seriously. Some of the best scenes are between Andi and her mother – a brilliant creation who chatters constantly but loves and worries about both children.

The story unfolds in a slightly predictable way, but the quality of the writing carries it through. The supernatural element to the story is a delight, with just enough ambiguity to keep you wondering. Gourlay is a talent to watch and I look forward to her next work.

The Verdict:

Candy Gourlay’s debut novel is a warm, charming tale about giganticism and accepting peoples’ differences and it has a wonderful supernatural element to it that gives the story an ambiguity that’s delicious to read. Bernardo and Andi are great characters and the use of a Filipino village gives a welcome multi-cultural element that’s interesting, humorous but never patronising. Definitely a writer to watch.

Cross-posted to books, bookworming, kiddie_lit and middlebooks.

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