Review: Stay Well Soon by Penny Tangey, by Jemimah Halbert Brewster

Title: Stay Well Soon
Author: Penny Tangey
Genre: Australian Middle-grade fiction
Favourite part: The times when Stevie is playing imaginative games and her friends come to join her.
Favourite quote: ‘[Mum] can’t stop me going to the toilet, it is against the Geneva Convention.’

Stay Well Soon by Penny Tangey is told through the eyes of eleven-year old Stephanie, known as Stevie. From Stevie’s perspective we navigate the everyday highs and lows of modern tweendom, from playground friend politics, to lying to her mother, to dreaming of her future horse Atta Girl, to disliking her sick older brother for taking up everyone’s time and attention. In the opening chapter Stevie’s best friend at school, Charlotte, is wrested away from her by April, who is mean to Stevie. Then, when Rhys becomes so sick he has to stay in the hospital, Stevie is annoyed that she must spend so much time in the car driving to and from the city, and so much time in hospital rooms watching her brother sleep. But it is at the hospital that she meets teenager Lara, who is also sick, and finally she has someone to share her love of horses and drawing with.

Stevie’s Mum doesn’t have much patience with her, and her Dad Ben is away working in Queensland, but between her new friend Lara at the hospital and her new friend Morgan at school, Stevie always has someone to talk to about horses. But when Stevie finds out that Lara might die from her sickness, she begins to wonder what the point of anything is if everyone is just going to die in the end. What’s the point of ever saving up enough money for her dream horse if she’s just going to die one day? This question begins to consume Stevie, to the point that she doesn’t see the point in anything at all, and her trick of cheering herself up by imagining riding Atta Girl bareback on the beach or through a forest doesn’t even work any more. She doesn’t tell anyone what she’s feeling, and even if she did she doesn’t have anyone to share it with who will understand.

One of the most impactful moments of the story is when it becomes clear that Stevie is keeping her feelings and reactions inside because she doesn’t want to upset her mum, who is struggling to cope with Rhys’ illness. Stevie’s repression of her feelings leads to outbursts and uncontrollable crying, and her family counsellor asks her to keep a journal of her feelings. But it isn’t until Dad Ben comes back and she has someone to talk to properly about all the things that are bothering her that she begins to feel ok again.

Through Stevie’s eyes Tangey manages to convey the strange state of pre-adolescence when everything is both completely normal and bewilderingly strange, when dependence and independence always seem to be in the wrong measures, and when the people you need the most are also the ones you have the most trouble connecting with. Stevie and her Mum don’t really see eye-to-eye until the very last page of the book, when Stevie realises that it’s OK for her to change, that it’s OK for her dreams of the future to be different from what they’ve always been, and that it’s OK to share your feelings even when you’re not sure exactly what they mean. Tangey does an excellent job of writing from the perspective of an eleven-year-old girl, and this novel is very readable for both pre-adolescents and the adults wanting to understand them. Stay Well Soon is about growing up, changing, and letting go of what we don’t need to keep.

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