The Other Christy
208pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99
For the last three years at Cabravale Primary, Christy Ung has been in the same class as Christie Owens. Even though they share the same name, they couldn’t be more different. Loud, brash, attention-seeking it girl Christie Owens is the opposite of shy, quiet, friendless Cambodian Christy – so much so that she has been dubbed “The Other Christy’.
All Christy wants is to have a friend, someone to bake treats for, someone who doesn’t see her as a ‘spare Christy’ and calls her anything but ‘The Other Christy’. But it doesn’t happen. If her class were the solar system, Christie Owens would be the sun, her friends the planets, and Christy is Pluto. She views herself as a meteorite floating around the school, spending her time in the Quiet Quad with the other meteorites who find it tricky to make friends for one reason or another.
She is made to feel even more isolated when she is the only person in the class who doesn’t receive an invitation to Christie’s party but even though her own birthday is just a week later she doesn’t feel she can invite people to her home because her Grandpa whom she lives with has a germ phobia and most of Christy’s home time is spent cleaning. However, her dead mother’s sister has married an Australian and lives nearby so Christy is able to escape some times, learning to bake the most scrumptious treats. It is Christy’s baking skills that bring a huge change in her life as she takes her birthday cake into school – a triple chocolate cheesecake that sets off a chain of events that Christy could not have foreseen. Not only does she start to build friendships (although she doesn’t recognise them at the time) Christie becomes her BFF! But, as is the way of friendships with this age group it has to survive and overcome several hurdles as both girls learn a lot about themselves and others on the way.
This is an engaging and entertaining read that reflects so much of what happens in Year 5 and 6 as friendships wax and wane, ebb and flow, include and exclude, as the children gradually move into adolescence and independence wanting to branch out on their own but needing the safety and solace of family. Christy’s home life, built on a very different life in Cambodia that is gradually revealed, echoes that of many of our students who come here unable to speak English and having to overcome that as well as the cultural changes, let alone making friends in a situation where friendships were cemented in Kindergarten.
Phommavanh says he has drawn on his experiences as a teacher and it is clear he was a very observant one as the dynamics of the relationships could be duplicated in almost any school in the country. It is touching, sensitive and wholly realistic but mostly, it offers hope for those, who, like Christy, want nothing more than to have someone they can call a friend. It’s about staying true to yourself and your beliefs and trusting that who you are is enough.