47 Degrees by Justin D’Ath

Published: 8th January 8th 2019Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Penguin Random House Australia
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Junior Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★ – 4 Stars

Zeelie wonders if they’re in danger. 

When temperatures soar to 47 degrees one hot summer day, 12-year-old Zeelie hopes the neraby bushfires everyone’s talking about aren’t heading towards her family’s new home. What will they do if the wind changes direction? What about their belongings and their beloved pets? And why hasn’t her mum and brother returned from Melbourne? 
Nothing can prepare Zeelie for what’s to come.

I will be 100% honest and say I read the first quarter and then I was experiencing so much anxiety about this book I skimmed the rest of it, reading a few full pages here and there to get to the end. I could not handle this story. I’m trying to work out if now I know how it plays out I could go back and read it again but I’m not sure.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but it is so stressful to read. Whether it is because I’m Australian and have seen the damage fires have done I was imagining the worst anytime anyone got in a car, on a road, near a fire; it just set off Worst Case Scenarios in my head. But despite that, I thought it was such a wonderful way to discuss the events of what happened on Black Saturday and through the eyes of Zeelie who is at the cusp of childhood and being a teenager; she is growing up but still has trouble handling the scope of what is happening around her.

Having the experience through Zeelie’s eyes shows the rapid nature of fires, how quickly plans change and go awry. Black Saturday was Victoria’s worst fire and seeing the trouble Zeelie and her dad get into are important experiences to understand, even if this story is fictional, it rings true to so many real life situations that people have experienced. We get to see how other communities and families are affected and Zeelie’s own worries about her family that she can’t contact adds an extra level of suspense. These are all real situations though as phone lines and power limit communication, closed roads and no news can add to the already stressful situations. D’Ath never makes it too overly dramatic, but the realities are there – well, as much as they can be for a children’s book.

D’Ath captures Zeelie’s voice beautifully. I saw her naivety but her confusion, but also her bravery, and when she is asked to pack up things to take with them I understood the trouble she had in deciding what was important to take for people. Her character is the epitome of someone her age. She expresses her love for her family but also her frustration about her brother and their relationship. I understood her uncertainty when she has moments where she first starts to doubt her dad, doubt his decisions; that unwavering trust of childhood starting to falter as she witnesses the things around her. I think it gives great power in allowing a kid of Zeelie’s age show anger at her parents, and frustration at their decisions and her own lack of power in a lot of cases.

Let it be noted that all the dogs are ok by the end of it. I actually texted a friend who’d read it the second I thought it could go otherwise because I was not prepared to read that so you don’t have to worry about anything happening to them. There is other animal death but it is unseen or has limited detail.

One thing I found impressive was how D’Arth captures the experience of a bushfire in its entirety. From start to finish you see the early warnings, the evacuations, the road closures and the devastation. D’Arth makes sure not to leave it there as you also see the healing and the community support of this kind of disaster. Even if I didn’t already know, this story helps you understand how fast bushfires can start and spread, as well as the damage they can cause. I am glad I pushed through my anxiety to finish the story because it was good to see the full circle and Zeelie’s story is one that covers a lot of important situations and experiences.

You can purchase 47 Degrees via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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