Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
Phoebe Nash Detective
By Justin D’Ath
Laguna Bay Publishing
October 2010, ISBN: 978-0-9805664-3-7, $14.95
Phoebe Nash is a thirteen year old Australian high school student. On a previous trip to Africa, she saved the soon-to-be President of Zuwali, and made friends with his son, a young boy name Sospeter. Now Sospeter Kipruto and his mother are coming to Australia to visit Phoebe. It would be perfect if Sospeter’s father hadn’t been pictured slaughtering an endangered white rhino and if there weren’t crowds of demonstrators waiting for them. As with Phoebe Nash Girl Warrior, Phoebe Nash Detective presents a credible story perfectly written for pre-teens. Although there’s a lot about Phoebe that is similar to most thirteen year olds, she has a natural and instinctive sense of bravery that is out of the ordinary. She does all kinds of special things like taking a bullet for Sospeter’s Mum, or, as the title suggests, working hard to find out the truth, even when that truth is obscured and difficult to get to.
The themes in this book are particularly valuable for young children, as it looks at prejudice and how appearances don’t always match reality. The story does refer to the prequel Phoebe Nash Girl Warrior but it isn’t necessary to have read it, as this book provides enough background material for readers who are new to the series. Although Phoebe clearly likes Sospeter and vice versa, D’Ath treats their growing interest with delicacy, allowing Phoebe’s feelings to come through in a growing jealousy that makes Phoebe more believable:
Phoebe sat back in her seat and clamped her mouth shut to stop herself from saying what was on her mind. That she didn’t care what Connor and Sospeter did tomorrow morning. That she didn’t care if Sospeter liked her nine-year-old brother better than he liked her.
But the truth was that she did care. She cared a lot. (121)
Suspense is created in the story when a sapphire from the beautiful Zulawi Blue Leopard mask is stolen, and Phoebe learns to trust her instincts and clear her own name as she uncovers the truth. Phoebe Nash is a likeable compelling character that pre-teens can rightly look up to and identify with. Kids love series and the fact that Phoebe’s adventures look like continuing will be a big plus. The small Australian town that the book is set in, Nullambine, may not be as exotic to Australian readers as the African setting of the previous book, but seeing a local setting through Sospeter and his mother’s eyes also adds to the charm. Sospeter is a big hit at Phoebe’s high school, and the interactions between the Australians and the Africans is handled deftly and will captivate readers, providing a backdrop that is further enhanced by the multi-cultural exhibits as the Nullabine Museum where Phoebe’s mother worked. Above all though, this is a book about courage, and Phoebe’s courage is present throughout the book, in her refusal to allow injustice, and her instinctual responses to danger and discord. Once again, Justin D’Ath has created an inspiring and engaging book that young readers will enjoy and parents will welcome (a combination that doesn’t always happen in sync!).
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, and Quark Soup, along with a large number of collaborations and anthologies. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks.