Tussock by Elizabeth Pulford, paperback novel, 185 pages, published by Walker Books Australia Pty Ltd in 2010.
Kate’s father is missing. He went up in a light plane with a friend, and they haven’t been seen since. They live is a mountainous and bushy area by a lake, so the only way to search for the plane and its occupants is by air. Kate and her sister, Madeline, are both hoping their Dad will be found soon, and they have been lighting a lamp and building a stone man to help guide him home. While they are up at Kate’s hut on the hillside, a strange boy appears. Troy seems sad, evasive and a bit irritating, but Kate comes to like him. While she waits for news of her Dad, she also wonders more about who Troy is and why he is there.
The style of Tussock was nice, and the story flowed well. I really liked the side story concerning the keys on the old rusty key ring that Kate’s Dad had given her when he passed the hut to her. These short anecdotes were interesting and more insightful than the rest of the story. I would have liked to read more of the stories behind the keys.
However, overall, this story just didn’t hit the spot for me, it didn’t pull me in and keep me engaged. There was too much left unanswered. What happened on that last night? What happened to Troy? Where did he come from, where did he go? I was even asking myself questions about how they met in the first place. I would have thought that finding a strange teenager lurking about on her farm would have been out of the ordinary. Despite her concerns about her father’s fate, surely Kate would have told her mother that there was someone trespassing, since she wasn’t aware of the boot camp at that point, and she didn’t know what he was up to. They obviously lived far enough from town that a random stranger wouldn’t just stumble along, and someone there to help with the search wouldn’t be wandering aimlessly by themselves over their property. Perhaps her lack of judgement is due to the stressful situation she is in, but still, I would have thought her instinct would have been to protect her younger sister at least. Kate barely seems suspicious, and is only mildly irritated that he won’t answer her questions directly.
Kate and Troy were the main characters, yet there wasn’t a lot about Troy. He was a fleeting figure, here, and then gone, with only the briefest explanation for his presence and strange behaviour. Really, Kate and Troy were ships passing in the night during a time of distress for each of them, but there could have been a lot more to their relationship. To me Troy was a bit of a shadowy character that I couldn’t visualise that well. In fact, none of the characters really spoke to me, though I found Kate and Madeline likable enough.
Tussock is suitable for upper primary school and lower high school children.