Danny Broadaxe is an ordinary 11-year-old boy, but his life is anything but ordinary. Since the death of his mother in a car accident that also put his father in a wheel chair, Danny has been trying to take care of his dad while dealing with his grief on top of the usual trials of school and life.
His story, however, is far from bleak, Rebecca Lloyd’s delicate touch ensures that a genuine love resonates between Danny and his dad, while a thirst for knowledge about the natural world keeps Danny enthralled in the discoveries he makes all around him.
The biggest discovery, however, comes when a neighbour, Mr Seeping, asks him to feed some tropical fish while he’s away.
Gradually Danny realises that he’s not the only person in the shadowy house, and encounters Mr Seeping’s wife Vaquita, dressed permanently in a grey swimsuit and claiming to be a Halfling – part woman, part porpoise.
The pacing is gentle, fitting in with Danny’s own contemplative nature. He spends far more time with adults than with friends his own age, partly because of his responsibilities to his dad, but also, it seems, because he prefers it that way.
This means, however, that when he finds himself in an unexpected situation, he has no mates to confide in, which ups the drama as he wrestles with his own sense of reality, and the fear that he’s being taken for a fool.
Danny’s challenges are many, from ensuring his home is kept tidy enough to please his dad, to deciding whether or not to believe Vaquita’s unlikely but compelling claim.
There are moments of great beauty in this novel, with extraordinary scenes conjured up in the sparest of language. At times this controlled writing lacks a touch of passion, making some of the most exciting moments slip by almost unnoticed, but it fits in well with Danny’s reflective persona.
Danny’s sadness is offset by the simplest of joys, from learning about the love songs of toads to finding that a neighbour has left a home-cooked meal, highlighting the difficulties faced by young carers in the most direct terms.
The mixture of the magical and a very believable reality blends together so seamlessly that you’ll find yourself accepting Vaquita’s story as much as you do Danny’s, and celebrating her ending just as much as Danny and his father’s.