cover image The Bamboo Flute

The Bamboo Flute

Garry Disher. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15 (96pp) ISBN 978-0-395-66595-4

From its exquisite opening line (``There was once music in our lives, but I can feel it slipping away'') to the moving finale, this elegantly delineated tale never strikes a false note. Australian Disher, a newcomer to the American children's book scene, is a gifted writer, and his story of Paul, a 12-year-old dreamer, is symphonic in its composition and layering of tones. Paul has witnessed the gradual erosion of happiness in his life; the global Depression of the early 1930s has taken its toll on his family's outback farm, and his parents are stretched to the limit. An outsider at school, he longs to fit in, especially with the ``town kids who have secrets and no place for me.'' At home, his relationship with his father, a dispirited veteran of WW I, is tenuous at best. When a swagman (drifter) takes an interest in Paul and teaches him how to carve a flute from bamboo, Paul's dreams of being special, of releasing the music that vibrates within him, finally take wing. In the end, father and son find common ground, and Paul helps reawaken in his father a sensibility fractured by the war and years of economic hardship. Disher's spare, evocative, emotionally charged coming-of-age story is reminiscent in style to the work of Paul Fleischman, but his voice is wholly his own, musical and haunting. In fact, the only downside to this book is its brevity. Like a particularly savory appetizer, it simply whets the reader's appetite for more. Ages 8-11. (Sept.)