Monday, September 1, 2014

Review: Playing Beatie Bow

Review: “Playing Beatie Bow,” by Ruth Park. The summary:
Abigail Kirk was an ordinary enough fourteen-year-old girl, except that she could not understand the adults around her. Why had her father gone off with someone much younger than her mother? And why, now that he wanted to come back, was her mother agreeable. What did love mean?

It was while she was angry and resentful about the whole thing that she began to watch children playing a game called Beatie Bow. She had never seen the game before, nor the odd child who always seemed to be watching but never taking part. When Abigail tried to speak to her, the child ran off into a part of the city called The Rocks. Abigail followed, and suddenly found herself in The Rocks of another time. Only the strange girl remained the same. And she proved to be Beatie Bow, a child of a century earlier.

Abigail was taken in by the Bows, amid whispered comments about "the gift," as though there was something she was supposed to do. She didn't want to stay until she met a marvelous boy named Judah. And then for the first time she began to grasp the meaning of love. But why was she in the past, and would she ever again see her own time?

Abigail's story takes place in modern Sydney, Australia, and the Australia of a hundred years ago. The book was named the best children's book of the year in Australia in 1981.
A friend lent me this book, originally written in 1980, and she might have told me something about it, but if so I don’t remember. So basically I was going into this book with zero expectations. All I knew from the cover summary was that it takes place in Australia and involves time travel.

Two things became clear pretty much immediately. First, that this is a younger YA. Abby, the main character is 14, and the story generally feels geared to younger teens. The second thing that quickly became clear was that Abby was going to annoy me, mostly likely because she reminded me too much of what I was like at that age—snarky and selfish with a bad attitude. But I guess as much as Abby frequently got on my nerves, I appreciated how honest her feelings were and how vividly they were written. There were multiple times when I thought, “Yep, I’ve definitely felt that exact same way before.” So I think if I had read this book in my early teens I would’ve connected a lot more to Abby than I do now with my 10+ years of hindsight about how self-centered I was as a teenager.

As for characters I did like, Beatie totally stole the show for me. She’s actually not in the book all that often, but when she is she’s just so dang spunky and feisty that I didn’t doubt for a second that even though she’s only 10 or 11, she’d eventually manage to pull herself out of poverty.

Plot-wise, I’m not entirely sure what was going on. Or rather, why it was going on. So, yes, Abby travels back in time to Victorian Australia, but it’s never actually clear what purpose her time travel serves. She’s told that it’s so she can make sure “the Gift” (magic powers that are hereditary in Beatie’s family) survives to the next generation, but why the Gift needs to survive is never explained. As far as I could tell, the Gift never actually accomplishes anything useful. It doesn’t save the world or change the course of history or anything remarkable. So why Abby needed to save it, I don’t know. Which made the whole point of the plot pretty vague to me.

Overall, a decent book, but one I think I would’ve connected with way more if I had read it 15 years ago.

Rating: 3 / 5


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Okay,start again.I can't fix typos on your page.I liked that this novel is about ordinary people - and for this particular family, it IS important that the Gift be saved. If you prefer novels in which a character saves the world, perhaps this novel isn't

  3. ...for you. But it's about more than the Gift. It's about Abigail. She leaves modern Sydney feeling resentful about her mother's wish to take back the husband/father who had left them. She doesn't understand about love, until she falls in love herself - and has to lose him. She returns to her own time a much better person. THAT's what it's about.

    It was written quite a while ago, before the kind of YA fiction in which girls fall in love

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. ... with bloodsuckers several times their age who somehow don't have the attitudes of men of their own era. It was written long before teens started devouring books about girls who saved the word and had two guys in love with them. It's not as large and exciting, but it will probably last a lot longer. :-)

  6. I don't remember reading this one but I do remember watching the film version where Abigail is much older than 14 and I think Judah was engaged? It was really strange. I don't remember liking Abigail very much either.


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