Bonnier Carlsen, 2016.
Reviewed by Margaret Dahlström in SBR 2016:2
Review Section: Children's and YA Fiction
Twelve-year-old Billie moves into a foster home because her mother, who has MS, is considered unable to care for her. Billie has a positive nature, and is not upset or unduly nervous about this move. But she is somewhat taken aback by aspects of her new surroundings. The town is tiny after life in Stockholm, her foster family seems unnaturally neat and tidy, the two children obedient and predictable, the parents efficient as parents and competent in their professions. But under this surface they are all struggling with a major tragedy, something they avoid in conversation within the family and with other people. Billie learns of it from a school friend: the family’s younger son was killed when he ran onto the road. Billie has not grown up in a family and does not ‘do’ taboos: she raises the subject of Casper’s death and soon has the family talking about him, which seems to release some of the tension she has been sensing between them.
From the opening scene, the reader is prepared for a rebel, a foster child resistant to help, guidance, direction and discipline. We first see Billie at the train station in Stockholm, awaiting the departure of the title – the train that will take her to her foster family in Bokarp. She has managed to shake off her carer and explores the platform alone, before boarding the train and finding her seat (and the carer). But for Billie rebellion is a low-key thing. She objects to being required to sit in a particular chair for each meal, and to eating at regular times of the day. But she does not reject her foster family, or disengage at school. The reader sees some fairly typical schoolyard rivalry and bullying, but Billie is not involved in it, either as participant or target.
There’s a lot of Pollyanna in Billie, but also a bit of Pippi Longstocking. Like Pollyanna, she sees the best in her actually rather difficult situation (to the point where for some readers – including this reviewer – the way she always looks on the bright side can seem a little insensitive to her mother’s circumstances). Like Pippi, Billie manages very well when caring for herself, and she has something of Pippi’s unusual strength. While Pippi was physically strong, Billie has an inner strength which enables her not only to deal with her own changing circumstances but also to help others. But Billie is not a derivative character, or a combination of these two classic child heroines; she is the product of a background which has required a strength verging on hardness and an independence that includes a degree of defiance. Yet she also has highly developed instincts as a carer and is sensitive to the feelings and needs of others.
Adult readers can accommodate incongruities between the world of realistic fiction and their own real world. Young readers may be less equipped to do so. I couldn’t help thinking that a system that re-homes a twelve-year- old out of visiting range of her mother – a mother who is ill and disabled, not dysfunctional or damaging as a parent – could be an alarming prospect to some readers. That aside, this novel offers a positive picture of a strong young person dealing with adversity in her own way, and using her strengths to help others.
Sara Kadefors is a prize-winning author who has written both for adults and for young readers. This novel is the first in a proposed series about Billie.