Woolshed Press/ Random House 2014
pbk, 328pp., RRP $18.99
For the three years since her mother’s death from cancer, Kat and her dad, Jimmy, have lived a very private life, keeping themselves and their business to themselves, fearing another intervention from the authorities which will split them apart again. Each night Jimmy goes out to play gigs in Brisbane’s bars and clubs and then backs up with the early morning shift at a local bakery struggling to meet the mortgage on the house that his wife loved, but also leaving Kat home alone at just 14. One night, Kat wakes up to find an intruder standing over her bed, his hand on her leg and it is only her blood-curdling scream and the arrival of the hated woman-next-door with a softball bat that prevents the attack going any further.
However, this event is just part of a traumatic experience for Kat as it is the catalyst for an unravelling of her life as she believes it to be with all the fervour, tunnel-vision perspective and sense of rightness that 14-year olds have. Born from a real incident happening to the author’s daughter who was eventually able to get over her guilt and start exploring the what-ifs, this is an intriguing tale of revisit and reborn. Kat has been shaped by her past and her interpretation of events and is trapped within it, and it is only when she is offered the choice of staying with her neighbour, whom she hates so much she will not even pass her house, or having a guard dog which she fears as a victim of a savage attack that she is forced to find an escape route from the cocoon she has spun around herself and Jimmy. It is not an easy journey and in travelling it she has to confront fears and situation that challenge her beliefs, which, while making her very vulnerable also make her stronger.
Intruder is a story that will be adored by those on the transition between childhood and adolescence. It has just enough suspense to keep turning the page, but not enough to terrify; its characters are diverse, realistic, memorable and recognisable and show that we all need a little bit of everyone to enrich our lives; and the plot, while very plausible, is not so close-to-home that the reader will fear being alone or turning the light off. While I’m not a fan of one-size-fits-all, I acknowledge that this story would have great value as a small-group read, perhaps as a book club, where readers can discuss its layers, explore the what-ifs, and perhaps not only gain some insight into that typical tunnel-vision of the age group, but perhaps develop some safety strategies as well. Teaching notes are available.
Christine Bongers’ two previous titles – Dust and Henry Hoey Hobson – have both featured in the CBCA awards lists which gives an indication of the quality of her story-telling and ability to reach her target audience well.
Please note that this is a book for senior primary/YA readers. It has been included here because it is a CBCA shortlisted book for 2015.