Title: Dragon Skin
Author: Karen Foxlee
Genre: Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 28th September 2021
Synopsis: From the bestselling and multi-award-winning author of Lenny’s Book of Everything comes a magical tale about a girl who saves a dragon and rescues her family.
How to save a dragon:
1) Assemble equipment. Water, Weet-Bix, sugar, syringe, sticky tape, scissors.
2) Believe in everything.
Pip never wants to go home. She likes to sit at the waterhole at dusk and remember Mika, her best friend. At home her mother’s not the same since her boyfriend moved in. They don’t laugh anymore and Pip has to go to bed early, turn off her light and pretend she doesn’t exist. When she finds a half-dead creature at the waterhole, everything changes. She knows she has to save this small dragon and return it to where it comes from. But how?
A story about surviving and saving those you love, by the multi-award-winning author of Lenny’s Book of Everything.
‘I’m in love with this book. Dragon Skin is surprising, beautiful, unique. The characters are wonderfully drawn – tough but vulnerable, hurt but hopeful, damaged but strong. They’ve lodged themselves in my heart forever.’ Katrina Nannestad, award-winning author of We Are Wolves
Pip’s life at home isn’t pleasant, so she does all she can to avoid going home to Mum and Matt. Until he leaves, she spends all her time with her friend Mika – until he leaves for the city. Then she finds a dragon clinging to life and starts to spend all her time trying to save the dragon, when she starts to get sick, and soon, she’s found new friends that she wasn’t sure she wanted – Laura Denning and Archie, whose friendship and loyalty helps her work out what to do for the dragon. Pip knows that she also must return the dragon to its home and escape Matt with her mother – but can she do both?
I love Karen Foxlee’s books – Lenny’s Book of Everything was a favourite read a few years ago, and anything she’s written that I’ve read has been magical, joyful, and touching. There’s always a sense of gravitas as well as joy, and a sense that eventually, things will be okay even though there will always be a few bumps in the road. She pulls from real life and fantasy in this book, setting it during contemporary times in an outback Queensland town on one side of the Great Dividing Range. This makes it uniquely Australian – one can imagine dragons being part of ancient Australia, or Australia at any time in history – it just takes special people like Pip, Laura, and Archie to find them and help them. It’s so nice to see fantasy set in Australia and done so eloquently and evocatively that all readers will be able to see themselves and their experiences captured in this story.
I found myself drawn to reading this novel set out in three acts over a couple of days and loved it so much. I wanted to reach in and help Pip and her mother and wanted to reunite Pip with Mika – I hope she eventually did, because I felt like Mika was very important to her. He was the first person she trusted outside of her mum, and it was his presence that helped her learn to trust Laura, Archie, and finally, herself, and her ability to see herself through what Matt put her family through and what the novel eventually leads to.
The friendship between Laura, Pip, and Archie was bittersweet – I wanted it to last, for Pip to be able to spend time with them after the dragon found its way home, yet I also felt there was a sense that it may not last – but more so in ways that the children might not have control over. The presence of their friendship was one of my favourite things, and the power of belief in yourself, in strength, in magic, and in your friends is what I loved about this book. It gives the reader something to believe in and hope to cling to in these difficult times, and reminds us that eventually, everything will be okay. Everything will work out, and that the impossible is possible. That one day, the bad times will end.
Karen Foxlee works magic with words and stories, making them relatable, tragic and hopeful wherever and whenever she sets her stories, and whatever themes, characters and genres they explore. I doing so, she evokes a sense of timelessness as well, letting readers into lives and characters who may seem far from what they know, but by the end of the novel, are friends that you don’t want to say goodbye to. They’re part of you, which is what good writing does for the reader and allows us to venture into new worlds, lives and experiences, and I am looking forward to seeing what Karen Foxlee offers up next, because I loved Dragon Skin, and whilst satisfied with how Pip’s story wrapped up, yet part of me wanted a little bit more – what became of Pip and her Dragon Skin? It’s a fantastic novel, and I hope readers will love it too, and learn that they are not alone. There are always people who will be there for you.