Moon Pie by Simon Mason

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David Fickling Books, 2011.
(Ages 10+) Highly Recommended. Eleven year old Martha and her five year old brother Tug are increasingly worried about Dad's strange behaviour. Both the children miss their Mum who died a couple of years ago and tellingly Dad refuses to talk about her. He's happy to arrange midnight picnics and hire a stretch limo to take them to a movie, but he often forgets to do the washing and fails to get up in the morning to see them off to school. With the help of her Hollywood obsessed friend, Marcus, Martha at last faces the truth that Dad's drinking is spiralling out of control and seriously affecting his ability to care for his family.
The children's efforts to conceal Dad's increasingly dangerous behaviour and their attempts to help are heartbreaking, but Moon Pie never descends into mawkish sentimentality. Martha is obstinate and brave. She makes endless lists to try and resolve their problems, tries to persuade Dad to take up swimming and get a job, and always does her best to care for younger brother Tug.
With a powerful plot and strong characterisation Moon Pie is comedic tragedy. Mason's style is straight forward and open. He presents his story simply with very little embroidery and that is probably the secret of his success. The seething mass of emotion is very much between the lines and readers will feel it without having it rammed down their throat. I reached for the tissues more than once and found myself wanting shake the children's father almost as often as I wanted to hug him.
The happy ending was somewhat unexpected in so stark a story, but I was quite relieved that Mason dipped into the realm of fairytale. After the relentless misery and upheaval that Martha and Tug experience a fairytale ending restores the reader's faith and confirms that this is indeed a story for children rather than adults, although Moon Pie is a salutary reminder of just how much impact the behaviour of one adult can have on their children. Altogether an excellent read which will be snapped up by fans of Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy.
Claire Larson