Change the Locks by Simon French, paperback, 103 pages, published by Ashton Scholastic Pty Limited in 1991.
Steven, an eleven year old boy living with his Mum and baby brother, Dylan, doesn’t remember much about his early life, and any questions he asks are deflected by his mother. Her life is in tatters, as she tries to cope with her abusive ex, no job and living out of town without a car. There isn’t much left over for Steven and Dylan, and most of Dylan’s care is left to Steven, a big responsibility for a boy. When Steven’s teacher starts a pen pal program with a class from another school, Steven’s pen pal’s name sparks a memory. He is sure that he has heard that name before, but he can’t quite place it. He is puzzling over this when he and his best friend, Patrick, discover an old newspaper under the flooring while they are helping his parents with some renovations. The newspaper has an article that just might be about Steven and his Mum, but it leads to more questions than answers for Steven, and he really wants to find out the truth. He feels that he is old enough now to know how and where his life began, and why he’s never been told about it before, but his mother may not be ready to tell her story.
This book is fairly short for a novel, but it is still a good read. Steven has to cope with things that many kids will have no exposure to, such as not knowing his father or grandparents, caring for his younger brother, even during the night, which makes him very tired, and being scared of his mum’s ex-boyfriend. These things make Steven different to other kids, and children can often be mean to those that are different, making his school life harder, just as his home life is also difficult. These are great burdens for a boy of that age. The subject matter is handled well, and the story is compelling. I remember reading this for the first time in about year four, and handling it well, though we also discussed it in class, which allowed for more understanding of the themes and issues presented in the story. This is especially important for younger readers so that they get the most out of the book. It’s probably best for middle and upper primary age children.