Saturday, November 16, 2013
The Golden Day, written by Ursula Dubosarsky. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 12 and up
This was a quick read because it elicited such a response from me. I was thoroughly intrigued by the well-crafted tale and the beautiful language, and satisfied and a bit shaken by its ending. It is set in the late 1960s in Australia. We meet 11 girls from an all-girls boarding school, and their teacher Miss Renshaw in its opening pages:
"Miss Renshaw was tall, noble, and strong. Her hair was red and springy. She was like a lion....
Theirs was a very small class. There were only eleven of them, like eleven sisters all the same age in a large family. Cubby, Icara, Martine, Bethany, Georgina, Cynthia, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, and Elizabeth, and silent Deirdre."
When the early morning news features the story of a man hanged and because of her aversion to capital punishment, Miss Renshaw decides that the class will head off to a memorial garden where they will be in the right place to consider death. It seems a strange pursuit. When they arrive they meet Morgan, a man who cares for the gardens and who shares Miss Renshaw's love of poetry. While there, Morgan leads them on an expedition to see paintings in a nearby seaside cave. When they become too anxious about their circumstances, the girls make the decision to leave the cave and get themselves to safety in the garden. Miss Renshaw and Morgan do not reappear. After waiting what seems a very long time, the girls return to school alone.
Aghast at this strange turn of events, the girls draw closer together and deal with the changes wrought by Miss Renshaw's disappearance. Sworn to secrecy by their teacher about their meetings with Morgan, the girls maintain a silence that is palpable. The school leaders are overbearing and deserve no credit for helping them deal with their loss. The girls learn by listening to conversations, and by sharing things they remember seeing and hearing. When the authorities become involved, everyone learns more about Morgan and fears the worst for Miss Renshaw.
The author uses subdued bits of humor to release the reader from an overwhelming feeling of unease:
"Amen" said Mr. Broome.
"Amen," said the eleven voices in response.
Mr. Broome stopped rocking up and down on his feet and
stood up very straight, like a soldier, looking out.
"I can see every girl in this room. Every girl in this room."
That was what he always said in chapel, but here it was less
impressive. After all, it was not very hard - there were only
eleven of them."
We are there with the young girls as they experience every event, each conversation, their concern for their teacher, and their need not to tell all that they saw. Beautifully written and totally compelling, it is a book I could not put down until the final page was read. It is a book that I will remember for a very long time.