Zanni Louise’s first middle grade novel is a rewarding and heart-warming story inspired by her own family’s experience of temporary homelessness during COVID.
When twelve-year-old guitar-playing Queenie, and her mother Clare, are evicted from their home, they struggle to find new accommodation thanks to an influx of people looking to escape Sydney during the COVID lockdowns. The seven moves in the title refers to the seven places they live in over the course of a summer, which include a retirement village, the home of a classmate she develops a crush on, a caravan with a hole in the roof and, ironically, the home of a real estate agent.
A talented guitar player, but fearful of performing in public, Queenie learns about song writing near the start of the story. It’s this new endeavour, coupled with moving from place to place, which provides a gateway to developing new relationships, enjoying her first kiss, and learning that allowing yourself to be uncomfortable and vulnerable is not the end of the world. In fact, it can make you stronger.
Relationships are key to this story, which helps to make it relatable and keeps the gritty reality of homelessness during the pandemic from taking over. Not only does Queenie develop her first crush, but she also must face the idea that her single mum might be ready for a new romantic relationship, and that some friendships aren’t what she thought they were.
Queenie is a relatable, sympathetic character whose struggles with performance anxiety and changing relationships as she approaches her teen years will reflect those of many readers. The other characters in the book, including her mother Clare, Audrey (who she befriends at the nursing home), Dory (her classmate and first kiss), and Sparrow (her former best friend), are also well drawn and well rounded.
This is a well-paced, engaging and emotionally satisfying book, that hits all the right notes (excuse the pun). But if Zanni ever gets bored with writing books, she could easily move on to song writing. The song lyrics included in the book are a clever reflection of Queenie’s experiences and emotions and add to the tenor of the story (sorry, another pun).
Zanni Louise personal experience helps to provide the emotional depth in the story. She has also carefully managed the fine line of reflecting the realities of the COVID pandemic but not dwelling too much on the nuts and bolts of this period so that it doesn’t detract from Queenie’s own story.
Queenie in Seven Moves is sure to bring Zanni a new readership and I hope we see many more middle grade books from this talented author.