Home' Teacher : August 2010 Contents 72 TEACHER AUGUST 2010
I'm about to do something we review-
ers are told we should never do. Warning:
spoiler follows. This book has a happy
ending. Actually this isn't much of a spoiler
because the characters inhabiting Kathryn
Lomer's fictional world are, for the most,
decent people and most readers will be root-
ing for them to prevail.
The setting is the small Tasmanian
coastal tow n of Dover. Matilda Baint -- the
eponymous Tilda B of the title -- is in her
final year of high school, and uncertain as
to what the future holds.
Year 10 is complicated. Tilda's parents
squabble over relationship issues and finan-
cial matters, so she's living temporarily with
her grandparents. She has contraceptive pills
in her drawer, but the 15-year old doesn't
know if she's ready for a sexual relation-
ship with surfer boyfriend Jamie. Neither is
she sure whether she'll continue to Year 11
in Hobart. She knows she's bright but she
doesn't know if she wants to go on studying.
She's uncertain what she wants from life.
Into Tilda's confusion comes an ele-
phant seal. An extremely rare visitor to
Tasmania, the arrival provides Tilda with
a distraction. She's the first to discover
the bellowing, beached creature. When
alerted by Tilda, biologist Meg arrives to
check things out and Tilda gets drawn in
to looking after the seal, or rather, seals,
after the birth of pup, Elly -- for some rea-
son the mother isn't given a name. Over
20 or so days we're privileged to witness
Elly's development. While the pup's story
is the novel's backbone, there are a number
of important limbs.
Dover is an aquaculture and forestry
tow n. There's a divide between the conser-
vationists and the industry workers. Tilda's
dad owns a log truck and debt is threaten-
ing to put him under. Lomer doesn't hide
her own conservation credentials, but the
story could have benefited from at least one
character presenting a pro-forestry view
with which a reader might sympathise.
Sure, Tilda's classmate, Eddie, offers a pro-
forestry view, but he's a bit in your face.
A reasoned presentation of the value of
woodchipping and aquaculture might have
given the novel more balance. Not all pro-
forestry supporters put rocks through the
windscreens of cars with Greens stickers on
Tilda's best friend is hairdressing obsessed
Shelly. When the mysterious misfit, Bella,
recently arrived from Sydney, is befriended
by Tilda, it causes some problems with her
Then there are boyfriends! Apart from
surfer Jamie, there's interest from a pho-
tographer Sprite, who isn't quite as nice
as he first seems. Tilda and Shelly meet up
with Linc and Toby on a trip to Hobart and
spend the day at the local cemetery, later
exchanging email addresses. Juggling all
this boy stuff is not as easy as it looks.
On top of these concerns, Tilda also has
to contend with school work and exams,
part-time work, alcohol and drug issues,
and worries about her brother Luke. There's
conservation; contraception; sex; friendship
and loyalty; relationships; and, finally, the
big, scary, uncertain future.
This is a well-written, intriguing story
that contains a lot for your students to think
Some won't like Lomer's decision not to
use speech marks and there are occasional
issues of a sub-editing nature. To give a few
examples, the biologist Meg has enough
bacon and eggs on the go to feed Tilda even
though she's appeared unexpectedly; the
pup is called 'little' when plainly it isn't; and
somehow Bella's mum fits 15 belly dancing
women into one living room, and, while
it might have been possible, I think Tilda
would probably have com mented. Andy
Griffiths might have noted the fart-filled
atmosphere; maybe the poet Lomer could
have found something more lyrical. These
are probably matters that only an anal-
retentive reviewer would notice.
I think Lomer could sometimes have
shown more of the emotional connection
between her characters, including the seals,
though the triangular-relationship between
Tilda, Shelly and Bella is a very fine emo -
tional heart for her story.
The accident at the end of the book,
foreshadowed on a number of occasions in
the text, provides a fitting conclusion and
Kleenex -- with apologies to green-minded
non-tissue users -- will do well.
What Now, Tilda B? offers many areas
for thoughtful discussion, especially about
sex, drugs and teenage pregnancy -- all
with just one swear word in its 239 pages.
It should be a contender for any teacher con-
sidering classroom sets. The book's glorious
cover could provide a topic for discussion in
its ow n right.
UQP provides a good set of teachers'
notes, available from the web without cost.
You might like to take a look at them before
making the decision to purchase. What
Now, Tilda B? deserves a place on your
library shelf. T
David Rish is an award-winning w riter
for children and a regular contributor to
Te a che r and Inside Teaching.
To dow nload teache rs' notes, visit www.
WHAT NOW, TILDA B?
By Kathryn Lomer
Published by UQP
ISBN 9 780 702 237 782
Reviewed by DAVID RISH
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