Author: Claire King
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
In this little novel, our protagonist, five-year-old Pea, is battling a difficult life. With an ill and pregnant mother, and a dead Father, Pea spends her time running around with her sister Margot staying away from home just hoping to make her Maman happy. Often times she and Margot visit Windy Hill to watch the turbines spin, which she says that since “the darkness is lonely, the turbines stir it away.”
Margot and Pea find that their goal is to “challenge” themselves daily “to use [their] cleverness to make Maman happy again.” That’s such a heavy burden for someone so young to carry. One of the things I found that King did an incredible job on was her ability to reflect and write from the view of a little girl, and she was ENTIRELY believable.
One day the two girls run into a man named “Claude.” Initially my internal motherly instinct was concerned that he was a pedophile. At one point the girls even stumble upon photos of other little girls, and find him in possession of two girl bikes. Again, my maternal senses are heightened. I find myself torn in admiration of Claude and his respect and care of Margot and Pea, but also find that his attention to these young girls may not be a good thing. Until his secret is revealed I remain warry of him.
Pea is seeking a Papa in hopes that Maman will be happy again. She desperately craves the attention of her Maman. In fact, one night after a nightmare she crawls in bed with her Maman, but as she curls up to her the baby begins kicking and causing discomfort to Pea. This baby seems to just keep getting between her and Maman. She is so determined, however, that she says “I do not want to keep getting kicked, but Maman’s hand is resting on my shoulder and I will stay here being kicked all night if I have to.”
Honestly, my favorite character interactions are between Pea and Margot. Margot is only four but she is incredibly wise, and supportive of her sister. Witnessing the love and the bond that these two share just melts my heart. For example, after Pea begins crying one night, Margot talks her through her fear of the dark. She shows her that beauty can happen in the dark, too, and points out a rainbow shining brightly in the middle of the night, bringing Pea enough peace to be able to sleep.
As character development continues King takes the time to give each person specific qualities that cannot be linked to anyone but them. Pea struggles with an “itchy bone” that she scratches to the point of bleeding any time she is nervous or upset. When the “darkness” begins to swallow her and she’s consumed by fear and sadness she scratches uncontrollably. Claude, despite the protest of townsfolk continues to play with Pea and Margot, taking care of them and providing food and water. Joanna, primarily known as Maman, battles debilitating depression, bursts of rage, and extreme cramps. Margot, kind and uplifting is ignored by almost everyone, however, Pea takes pride in making sure that everyone acknowledges her little sister.
Margot isn’t the only wise one, though. Pea has moments where she is incredibly profound. During one of their stay-away-from-home days, the girls watch birds as the mother pushes them out of the nest to fly. Pea is irritated that the Mother bird is so forceful and she says “You should be able to choose when you want to fly.” In all their wisdom, however, neither of them can find ways to make Maman happy.
Maman isn’t always angry or sad, she has days where she gets out of bed and actually begins to do things besides sleeping. Unfortunately, the days she does try, Joanna still ends up being hurt in some way, whether from rude people, or a violent baby. Even still, Pea carries much of Maman’s unhappiness on her own shoulders. Knowing that her Papa has died, she feels responsible for not being able to help Maman be happy.
During a dream where she’s able to talk to her Papa, she confesses that she’s lost her Maman and that she’s “sorry [because she] doesn’t know how to find her.” She opens her eyes from the dream and she feels “ashamed.” How sad! So young and carrying something so large!
Pea struggles with the thought that the baby Maman is carrying has come to replace her. At one point Margot tells Pea that things die in order to make room for new things, and relying on this philosophy she wonders where her new Papa is, and if the baby in Maman’s tummy has come to replace her, too.
Pea has constantly protected Maman from everyone and everything, but at only five-years-old it’s beginning to weigh on her too much. The only one who takes care of Margot is Pea, and the only one who takes care of Pea is Margot. She’s getting “fed up” of not having a Maman who does her job.
After an accident takes place jeopardizing everyone, all the secrets are revealed. King begins to tie all the little pieces together preparing to wrap them up in a beautiful bow. Things are revealed, the plot is twisted, and suddenly everything makes sense. How could it possibly end? Does Pea get her Papa? Is Maman ever happy? Does the new baby take Pea’s place? And does Pea ever get shown that she is valued and appreciated?
Read the book to find out for yourself if things end beautifully, like a flower swaying in the wind… or horribly, like a violent storm and dead trees.
Overall I personally loved the book, which is why I gave it 4 stars. I did, however, feel like King could have wrapped up the story a little bit more definitely, rather than such an abrupt end to the story that felt like you were left with many open-ended questions, and vague descriptions.