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Who do you trust when those you love most let you down?
Fifteen-year-old Kate Norton has been living a happy family fantasy. Her mum has been keeping secrets. Now the father Kate never knew she had is coming to Perth. He wants to take Kate back to Brisbane with him because his mother has cancer and wants to get to know her only granddaughter before it’s too late. Kate is on an emotional rollercoaster. Everything she believed about herself and her life has been based on a lie. Her wonderful dad is not her father. Even her beloved Nanna Hannah is not her ‘real’ grandmother. Kate has to find out who she is and where she belongs. Only then can she find out if her friendship with newcomer Joshua Perrin can be something more.
I’m not sure if this is just me, but there was a time in my childhood that I was certain my family weren’t blood relatives (probably influenced by the stories my older brother made up). Nevertheless, even for a fleeting moment of feeling like you don’t belong has a life-long impact on your psyche. So, reading Monelli & Me definitely had me intrigued from the very beginning to the very end. Author Teena Raffa-Mulligan delivers us a gripping hook and flips our hearts over and over with the news that turns the protagonist, Kate’s life upside down. And we feel it. Raffa-Mulligan has effortlessly stepped into the fifteen-year-old’s voice, with the use of evocative language and adolescent themes. Young adult readers will surely identify with the themes of friendship intricacies, family complexities, and even a little flirtation of romance, amidst re-evaluating self-identity and feelings of betrayal.
It’s not far into the novel that, what we already know of Kate Norton’s ‘happy family fantasy’ life up until now, is suddenly turned on its head. In fact, it’s the opening line that immediately draws us in. And what follows is the unravelling of a secret plot, hidden by her own mother, of a man she never knew who surprisingly appears as a massive piece of the history puzzle. Her biological father – Nick Monelli. What does he want after all these years? Why is he reaching out now, without a trace before? Kate turns to the people she entrusts most to support her through this confusing time – her best friend, the effervescent Lisa, her adoring Nanna Hannah and her Dad (the one she has always known). And with shocking twists and turns, her Mum reveals more truths, more answers; casting their own relationship into a turbulent spin.
Teena Raffa-Mulligan appeases our thirst with the significant amount of growth developed between Kate and Nick Monelli, the Norton family ties and Kate’s sense of self. But at the same time, like all great novelists, leaves a little more to ponder after the close of the last page.
Monelli & Me is easily a captivating page-turner, that will leave a lasting impression on readers from around fourteen and up. Highly recommended.
Review by Romi Sharp
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