What a strange book. A bus called heaven starts before the imprint and continues on in a strange, chaotic sort of way. Ostensibly this is the story of a ghostly pale girl who claims an abandoned bus for the community in which she lives and then defends the community’s right to keep it. There is a distinctly political undercurrent in the book too. Graham explores the role of junk as a catalyst for community cohesion, takes aim at bureaucracy and ensures that a range of social and cultural groups are represented throughout.
The book is very real. The abandoned bus hasn’t been sanitised – it looks like someone has been living in it – the town is full of factories billowing smoke and the people are fat and thin, tall and short, young and old. All of this forms a counterpoint to the warming glow of community spirit. The message is that no one is going to make our world beautiful for us so we need to do it ourselves. So too with building relationships.
There is something jarring about the way that the book starts before the title though and the poems that bookend the story are lovely but, because of their position, lack emphasis. There are also too many characters so it begins to feel like a roll call. On the other hand, each character brings something to the book so it is hard to see how it would work in their absence.
A bus called heaven brings together important ideas that are worthy of being shared with the young. Read it with your kids and then have a barbeque and invite the neighbours.