Books

Melanie Basta and the Book of Azkaban

2 July 2015

“Then, in a higgledy piggledy fashion, with interruptings, rememberings, dead accurate sound effects, impersonations and slight exaggeration we told our extraordinary story to the disbelieving parents.”

I first read 45 + 47 Stella Street and Everything that Happened when I was eleven and it is still to this day one of the most distinctive portrayals of modern suburban Australia I’ve encountered. Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Honey, it is an endearing book aimed at kids between the ages of nine and thirteen, so I apologise for venturing slightly out of the Young Adult zone and into the terrain of snot-nosed ‘juvenile fiction’. Blergh. Juvenile it may be, but there’s pure fun in referring to a new Mercedes-Benz as a “grey slug”. Imagine that gliding down the street.

Twelve-year-old Henni Octon narrates the book in a series of chapters resembling diary entries, which revolve largely around the new neighbours: Mr and Mrs Phonie. The Phonies are offstandish snobs who are obsessed with luxe living and cash money, so when they want nothing to do with the rest of Stella Street, Henni and her friends sense that something is wrong. Zev, Danielle and Frank join Henni on a hunt to figure out what the Phonies are hiding, and through a series of letters, clues and stakeouts, they discover that the Phonies have been laundering money.

But just because you’re reading a kids book, don’t think you’ll miss out on any near death experiences. Towards the end, Danielle is held at gunpoint by Mr Phonie, but only because the four kids had casually tried to solve a crime and chased the Phonies all the way to and through the airport.

Even though 45 + 47 Stella Street revolved largely around the Phonies, I had completely forgotten about this drama, and realised that it was probably because, to me, it was just a small part of the story.

In my mind, 45 + 47 Stella Street had moulded itself into a mix of potted plants, neighbours sitting on verandas, cicadas crawling up trees, kids sipping on chocolate milkshakes from the milkbar, and a little dog digging through rubbish.

I remembered Henni, the writer; Zev, the boy with electric hair; Danielle, the bold one; and Frank, the cheeky little one. Typically Australian words and phrases such as “higgledy piggledy”, “yonks” and “bloody ratbags” were thrown in and added authenticity. I remembered these things and not the drama because Honey’s portrayal of suburban Australia was so accurate, in both setting and language.

And so, in higgledy piggledy fashion, with interruptings and rememberings, may you, dear reader, also find a Stella Street to call home.


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