Title: The Year the Maps Changed
Author: Danielle Binks
Publisher: Hachette/Lothian Children’s Books
Published: 28th April 2020
Synopsis: One extraordinary year will change them all…
Sorrento, Victoria, 1999. Fred’s family is a mess. Her mother died when she was six and she’s been raised by her Pop and adoptive father, Luca, ever since. But now Pop’s had to go away, and Luca’s girlfriend Anika and her son have moved in. More and more it feels like a land-grab for family and Fred is the one being left off the map.
Even as things feel like they’re spinning out of control for Fred, a crisis from the other side of the world comes crashing in. When a group of Kosovar-Albanian refugees are brought to a government ‘safe haven’ not far from Sorrento, their fate becomes intertwined with the lives of Fred and her family in ways that no one could have expected.
At eleven, almost twelve years old, Fred’s life is changing rapidly. Her adoptive father, Luca, has been seeing Anika, and has recently allowed Anika and her son, Sam, to move in with them. She’s in her final year of primary school, and Pop, who usually lives with them, has had to go into hospital in the next town. It’s 1999, the year before the Y2K panic, two years before an incident in New York would change the world forever. It’s the first time the idea of refugees and war crosses the consciousness of Fred and her friends in Sorrento beyond what they have been taught about past wars. In this year, Fred will grow up, find out what family is, and who she can rely on in a world that is beginning to change in so many ways.
There were so many things I loved about this book – its 1999 setting was very relatable, and I was a year older – 12-13 than Fred was in the novel, so some of what she felt with her changing body, and friends, I could understand. It was my first year of high school and like Fred, the first time that refugees and discussion about current wars crossed my path – most likely in history, and some of what I saw on the news. Like Fred, Kosovar seemed so far away, at first, it was hard to understand. Fred’s life will change in many ways in this year, and Danielle has used maps as a metaphor for physical changes in locations, borders and lives – as well as a way of understanding the world and how the maps we know were and have been created.
There are some very cool nineties references I loved – watching movies on VHS, sleepovers, and a time before computers and technology like iPhones became something just about everyone had and used every day – a time when switching off the computer really meant switching off, and we sent hand-written invitations for parties. Kids rode bikes in their neighbourhoods, and we read newspapers in print.
Whilst this nostalgia made the book feel comfortable for me, the idea of a refugee facility near my home was something unknown to me, and as we explore this phenomenon and the reaction to refugees through Fred and Sam, as they deal with the changes in their family, showed how much kids can notice what is going on around them, and what it means to have ethics and morals, and what happens when doing the right thing morally might not be the right thing legally. This conflict comes into being strongly, as Luca is a police officer and is at times, caught between what he believes is right and what he must do within the confines of the law and his job. It is about the conflicts we face in life in all their measures, and how we deal with them.
I enjoyed this book – it was like heading back to a world before everything changed – or before we became aware of what things were like for people outside our circles, as it was an age where we were likely to encounter some of these things for the first time, or at least, an age where we may have the clearest memories of these things happening. It will vary from person to person, and experience to experience. What Danielle has done here is to capture one experience through the eyes of one child during this time, and how she made sense of it all.
I recommend this to enthusiastic middle grade readers, and those older, as it can offer something to each reader and readership.