By Vita Forest
Some of my friends will groan when they realise that this post is about a Melina Marchetta book. You see, in the last year, I have become something of a Marchetta fanatic, zealously preaching to anyone who will listen about how wonderful her books are.
Like many people in Australia, I knew and loved Looking for Alibrandi, but didn’t realise there were more and even better offerings from this Aussie author. By chance, I read Finnikin of the Rock and then I was hooked. I read her whole canon in quick succession and started pressing copies onto family and friends. How is it that her other books are not so well known in this country?
Anyway, how exciting it was to discover that as well as her Young Adult novels (whatever that means – a topic for another time), Melina Marchetta had written a book for “younger readers”. Perfect. I could do my bit by introducing her to some younger readers I knew – my class.
The Gorgon in the Gully tells the story of Danny Griggs, a boy in fourth grade at a school in Sydney. (“Sydney!” One of my students gasped, “That’s where we live!”) When the soccer team’s lucky ball is lost in the gully beyond the schoolyard, Danny agrees to retrieve it, despite his fear of the Gorgon rumoured to live in that very place. This is a story about an unlikely group of friends who work together to reach a seemingly unachievable goal. It is set in a primary school, which caused great joy in my class as they recognised so many familiar elements. How important it is to be able to recognise ourselves in stories.
Marchetta assembles a fabulous cast of characters who soon became favourites with my class. Without fuss or fanfare, she includes characters from a range of cultural backgrounds (including an Indigenous Australian) and living in a range of family structures. It’s not an “issue” book, but by the mere inclusion of minorities, it is refreshing, but also normal. There ARE kids in my class who weren’t born in Australia, who don’t live in nuclear families, and who struggle sometimes due to problems in their family lives.
For fellow Marchetta-tragics, you have probably already noticed that Danny shares the same surname as Jonah Griggs, the brooding cadet from On the Jellicoe Road. Indeed, they are brothers, and Gorgon takes place at the same time as Jellicoe, with Danny receiving advice from Jonah (when he can get mobile coverage at Jellicoe, of course).
Danny and his friends come up with a highly ingenious plan to divert their teacher’s attention and allow him to escape into the gully to find the lucky soccer ball. It involves a strategically aimed meat pie thrown by Akbar the Fast Bowler (or Akbar TFB). Akbar has a signature move where he points at his own eyes with two fingers then points at someone else. My class and I practised this, and every time Akbar did it in the story, we did it too. In fact, they loved it so much that they started a new class ritual. Every morning when they arrived at school, a procession of children knocked on the classroom window to get my attention, gave me the “I’m watching you” action, waited for me to reciprocate, then ran off to play.
Term 3 is half over and it’s still happening. So Melina, thanks for the fantastic stories and I hope my kids will go on to read your other books when they get a little bit older.