Title: Somewhere Around the Corner
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction/Timeslip
Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2nd March 1994
Synopsis:Just shut your eyes and picture yourself walking around the corner. that’s what my friend told me. Somewhere around the corner and you’ll be safe. the demonstration was wild, out of control. Barbara was scared. She saw the policeman running towards her. She needed to escape. She closed her eyes and did precisely that: she walked somewhere around the corner – to another demonstration – to another time. Barbara was lucky she met young Jim who took her out of this strange, frightening city to his home. It was 1932, when Australia was in the grip of the depression, and Jim lived in a shantytown. But Barbara found a true friend and a true home – somewhere safe around the corner.
Awards: 1995 CBC Honor Book for Younger Readers; shortlisted 1995 WA Children’s Book of the Year; shortlisted 1995 ACT COOL Award; shortlisted 1995 NSW Family Therapist’s Award
Barbara is alone at a demonstration in Sydney, in 1994. She bumps into an old man, who tells her about a girl who once told him to just walk around the corner to find safety. When she dopes, she feels herself being pulled and called into another world – another time. When she opens her eyes, she’s in another demonstration, this time in Sydney during 1932 and the Great Depression. She’s rescued by Young Jim, who takes her back to his home in a shanty town called Poverty Gully, where she meets Ma, Dad, Thellie, Elaine, Joey and Harry, as well as Gully Jack, the Hendersons, Dulcie at the dairy farm and the local police officer, Sergeant Ryan. Here, though times are hard, Barbara finds a family, and a safe place and friends. She’s welcomed into the O’Reilly family wholly and adored by all, and cared for carefully by everyone in the O’Reilly circle as she finds a way to adapt to this strange new life in a valley filled with hope, love and family during a time in history when many were unemployed and homeless, and trying to make do with what they had, and get whatever work they could get – struggles that lasted until the outbreak of war, when those who could entered the army, others entered industries that helped the war effort and economies across the world were rebuilt slowly.
This was the first Jackie French book I read – back in year seven English, with Mrs Cohen. I have read Jackie French and historical fiction since then, sometimes on and off depending on what I could find, and what was available in the library, as well as all my other reading, and I still have all my Jackie French novels – including my copy of this one from year seven. It was also one of my earliest introductions to events like the Depression, and it made the events of 1932 accessible to a younger audience in a truthful and reflective way, without shying away from the truth, but at the same time, without being too overwhelming – a lot of her books do this and they are filled with such great emotion and spirit, I am currently trying to read or re-read all the ones by Jackie that I have.
Her books are often inspired by real people she knew or knows, coupled with the untold stories in history, the voices ignored such as the poor, women, disabled, and many other groups often left out of the discourses. This is why they are so powerful, and why Somewhere Around the Corner which has been out for twenty-five years this year, based on the publication information I found, and in my yes, has not only stood the test of time, but reflects society then and what many experienced, and what some people face today – job and housing insecurity. It holds up because these experiences, and the experiences of Barbara and the O’Reillys, are and can be universal.
Living in 1932 with the knowledge of what is to come, the O’Reilly’s see the things Barbara tells them as wild stories, and fantasies at times, though Young Jim and Thellie believe her. What I loved about this story, and all of Jackie’s stories, is the equal prominence she gives to plot, history and characters, neatly bringing them all together to create eloquent and insightful stories, often set during times of hardship or times of social change and upheaval, and seen through the eyes of those often not heard in the history books – making these stories powerful for all to read and learn from.
I am glad I finally read this again after finding my copy – as my first introduction to Jackie French, and time slip, young adult and historical fiction novels, it is very special to me, and I hope it will be read and enjoyed by others as well.