Author: Libby Hathorn
Publisher: Hachette Australia/Lothian Children’s Books
Published: First published in 1990, current edition published 2015.
Synopsis: A modern Australian classic from bestselling author Libby Hathorn, now with a new, contemporary jacket in celebration of its twenty-fifth anniversary.
Lara feels completely alone after her mother’s death. She moves to the bush to live with her father, but his new family make her feel like an intruder, and a bully makes school just as unwelcoming. With the appearance of the mysterious dog Thunderwith, Lara begins to feel a connection to this harsh place. Will it ever feel like home – and will her stepmother and half-siblings ever feel like family?
THUNDERWITH has won numerous awards, including the Children’s Book Council Honour Book Award (1990), the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults (1991) and was also adapted into the classic TV movie THE ECHO OF THUNDER, starring Judy Davis, who was nominated for an Emmy for her portrayal of Gladwyn.
THUNDERWITH was directly inspired by Libby’s family holidays in the Wallingat rainforest: ‘One night there was a huge storm and when I looked out of the window, this big black dog ran across the clearing, a very proud and wonderful-looking animal. Afterwards, when I climbed back into the bunk where I had been sleeping, there seemed to be this chanting thing going on between the thunder and the rain on the roof, “Thunderwith, Thunderwith.” By morning, I had a story.’
Following the death of her mother, Cheryl, Lara moves to the Wallingat with her father, and his new family – Gladwyn, and four children: Pearl, Garnet, Opal and Jasper. She feels completely alone: Gladwyn and eldest daughter Pearl seem to hate her, her father, Larry is so often away, and school presents more problems in the face of school bully, Gowd Gadrey. When exploring the bushland behind the property one day during a storm, a dog appears. As he appears, Lara chants “With thunder you’ll come, and with thunder you’ll go,” – and names the dog Thunderwith. As she battles bullying at school and indifference from her new family, Lara finds solace in Thunderwith as she searches for her mother’s spirit, feeling as though she has been abandoned. Her only refuge is the library, and the Aboriginal story teller, Neil, who seems to understand Lara and the way she feels and becomes a great source of comfort to her. When tragedy strikes, Lara is faced with a tough decision, and the sense that this tragedy could tear the family apart or bring them closer together.
The first time I encountered Thunderwith, was in my year six class, where we read it as a group. There was something magical about it, and twenty years later, after having read it multiple times, it is still there. I loved it in class so much, I wanted my own copy – I wanted to read it on my own as well, and have done so many times over the years, that my book is creased, with yellowed pages, but still intact, and still ready to be read again. It was the first Young Adult book I ever read – though I didn’t know that was the category it fitted into at the time. I fell in love with Thunderwith, the book and the dog – an amazing dog, and filled with amazing, diverse and complex characters whose secrets are slowly revealed.
It is a story of love – the love for family, mostly. Lara’s love for her mother drives her, and the love she received as a child is so easily shared with her new siblings. Lara’s courage and love shines through, as she adjusts to her new home, new life and new school across several months, and a single school term. It is one I have loved and enjoyed for a long time, and that will always be a favourite.