The Year the Maps Changed by Danielle Binks

The Year the Maps Changed follows 12-year-old Winniefred “Fred” life in Sorrento, Victoria when 400 Kosovar-Albanian refugees arrive to be kept at one of Australia’s ‘safe havens.’ Unlike most other middle grade novels this coming of age story isn’t about Fred ‘growing up’ but instead its about her dealing with change in the midst of grief. When Fred was six her mother died and has been raised by her Pop and adoptive father Luca — but now Pop is at a rehabilitation centre recovering from a fall and Luca’s girlfriend, Anika, has moved into Fred’s home with her son Sam and is expecting a baby. Fred has to deal with the idea that she might be left behind cause her family is not her family by blood while learning about being emphatic to people who are different from her.

Publisher: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 9780734419712
Pages: 320
Publication Date: 28 April 2020
RRP: $17.99 AUD
Personal Rating: 5/5

This novel is raw, dealing with serious issues that most children would not deal with in their everyday life. Binks never simplifies the issues of grief or standing up against views against your own —- but at the same time she always reminds us the Fred and her friends are children who understand bits of the world and want to be included in everyday conversation. Fred and her friends are always trying to do their best even though they don’t always get it right and the adults in the novel acknowledge this never once using the phrase ‘when you are older you’ll understand’ in a condescending manner. Binks reminds us the children are aware and can be mature towards worldly issues.

Even though the overall plot of the book is Fred becoming involved with the Kosovar-Albanian community that is staying near her town and helping them alongside her father Luca (local police office and volunteer at the safe haven), it is more than that. During the novel Fred deals with the reality that she has lived with her adoptive father longer than her birth mother and feels like she is betraying her mum for loving Luca a bit more. But she also fears that Luca won’t love her as much once the new baby comes into the family dynamic because Luca will finally have a child related to him. I adored that Binks wrote about this because the concept of love is still fairly foreign to children — unaware that its quantity is infinite. It reminded me of my own fears when I was eight and learning that I was going to share my parents’ love with another human being. Its terrifying stuff.

Fred’s relationship with her step-brother Sam through out the novel was my favorite sub-plot of the story. Seeing Fred going from calling Sam not her brother who ruined something sacred she had with Luca to giving him a birthday present when everyone else forgot it was his birthday because she loved him in the type of character growth that I wish real people could have. Its a reminder what love and empathy does when you give it time.

The family relations on this debut middle grade novel is one that we need in more children books. Reminding us that found families may sometimes be thrusts upon us and it’s okay to be scared about this, but these found families are important to have.

Overall this Australia set book is full of kindness, grief and love and confronts real life issues with raw honesty — never once trying to downplay difficult topics or insulting the reader. It is one of those few stories that reminds us that not everything has a perfect happily ever after at the end but there are foundation stones for it if you keep working towards it. The Year the Maps Changed ends in hope and sometimes hope is the perfect ending to difficult times.

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