Monkey and Me
pbk., 240pp., RRP $A14.99
ebk., RRP $A10.99
Jez Matthews (aka Beanie) is nine years, eleven months and seven days – not yet in double digits so not yet old enough to join his brother Mark’s gang. But following an Extraordinary Meeting of the Executive Council, in which Mark had the position of power and the casting vote, Jez is allowed to be a part of it on probation. However, he is determined to prove himself worthy of full membership when he does turn 10 so he does a little bit more and tries a little bit harder than the others. When the gang is in need of a new meeting place, it is decided that they will try the deserted house commonly known the Black Gate which is known to be not only haunted but inhabited by monsters.
Jez, being Jez, is braver than the others and finds himself inside and indeed, it sounds like there is a monster there. But what Jez finds is not a monster – but a monkey. Or a chimpanzee to be exact. One that is scared and hungry but which knows sign language. And so begins an engaging tale of Jez’s determination to save Malcolm (as he calls him) from the scientists and experiments that Jez is certain has been Malcolm’s life till now. It’s a remarkable adventure that involves keeping Malcolm hidden, protected and safe from two dodgy characters and the police – and, as the story unfolds, we learn that Jez has leukaemia. This is not a big deal in his eyes, although it has certainly impacted immensely on his family’s life, but as the story builds to its climax, the illness makes things more urgent than ever.
Setting aside the fact that monkeys and chimpanzees are not synonyms, this is an absorbing story with splashes of humour that make the reader feel for both Jez and Malcolm and want to find out what happens in the end. That is a mark of quality writing. Told by Jez himself, it gives an insight into the life of a sick child who really just wants to be an ordinary boy first with being ill somewhere else on the list of things about him you should know. Is it the boy that drives the illness or the illness drives the boy? This is a story that can be read alone by an independent reader but is also an excellent candidate as a read-aloud by a teacher or parent because Jez is a most endearing character and it’s good to find a novel that is different and has a depth that provokes thought and discussion.