Dubosarsky has written impressively in the past melding personal drama with historical events but The golden day has taken this to a new level. The story follows a group of Grade 4 girls who lose their teacher in a park on a school excursion in 1967. The combination of the gothic plot and setting and the silly and whimsical machinations of the 11 year old girls creates a juxtaposition that is distinctly unsettling. Yet the harshness of the reality of their situation and the comical portrayal of the girls keeps us utterly transfixed. How can we read about these naive, vulnerable little things without being gripped by a desire to protect them?
Yet it is the girls who are doing the protecting. As depicted in the Charles Blackman painting from which Duborsarsky drew her inspiration, little girls know how to keep a secret. Not in a ‘we’ve-accidently-killed-the-bishop-and-now-we-need-to-cover-it-up-while-digging-the-hole-deeper-and-deeper-for-ourselves-to-hilarious-consequence’ type of way but in an enthralling, conspiratorial, Omertà kind of way.
Ronald Ryan’s hanging and the Vietnam war play interesting cameos in the story adding to its dark tone. The way that the characters interact with these macabre and controversial events epitomises the authenticity of Dubosarsky’s writing. As Miss Renshaw says, how horrible indeed to be hanged in the morning – particularly on such a bright and pleasant one.
The author has set the scene perfectly but it is purely a McGuffin for the real cut and thrust of the story – an exploration of youth. While it is comforting to imagine that the transition from childhood to adulthood is a discrete one, the author reveals that this is entirely untrue – children have very adult thoughts about friendship and loyalty (or maybe adults hold very childish ones). There is also the notion that, alongside their vulnerability, children possess a deep sense of resilience and an ability to accept things as they are even when they are very strange. A characteristic that often becomes lost to us as adults.
Readers will get a sense that Dubosarsky is mining her own youth for inspiration and we are privileged that she has done so. Like Blackman, Dubosarsky is a creative who has produced something unconventional and idiosyncratic. It is a work of art that, like one of our own formative experiences, penetrates the psyche and colours our view of the world thereafter.
Don’t let the age of the protagonist put you off, The golden day deserves to be a crossover success far more than the wizard, the vampire or the one about the kids-killing-kids (ok, the one about the kids-killing-kids was amazing and deserves to be a crossover hit too). Good writers say that one should write about what one knows – Dubosarky knows good writing. The golden day will make you appreciate how bad other books are in contrast to this inciteful masterpiece.