May 23, 2011

The 10PM Question by Kate de Goldi

The Ten PM Question by Kate de Goldi

“But people keep silent for too long and then, next thing, silence is their bad habit. Things fester.”
Twelve-year-old Frankie Parsons is having a hard time keeping the “rodent voice” in his head under control. Every day, he has to battle a litany of worries threatening to consume his every thought. He envies his best friend, Gigs, for his ability to just live life instead of endlessly wondering about everything that could go wrong. Frankie’s persistent anxiety is only really taken seriously by his mother: every night at 10pm, Frankie asks her a question that has been consuming him, and she does her best to dispel his worries. Frankie’s entire world rests on a very precarious balance – a balance that even the slightest change might overthrow. When a new girl by the name of Sidney arrives at school, Frankie recognises a kindred spirit and immediately befriends her. But their friendship comes with both rewards and risks. As much as Frankie enjoys spending time with Sidney, he dreads the question he knows she’ll eventually ask.

The 10PM Question is a smart, subtle, touching and funny book that contains one of the most accurate portraits of recurrent anxiety I’ve even encountered. With both wit and compassion, Kate de Goldi lays bare the traps Frankie’s mind sets for itself. The book also does a remarkable job of slowly unveiling the circumstances of Frankie’s life in a way that advances both the plot and the characterisation: as we read on, we become aware of his family dynamics, the reason why his mother hasn’t left the house in years, and the things Frankie fears the most and attempts to keep from even himself.

What interested me the most, though, was de Goldi’s portrayal of Frankie and Sydney’s friendship, particularly when it comes to its examinations of the trappings of anger and entitlement in personal relationships. Sydney’s family dynamics are in their own way as unusual as Frankie’s, and her mother is the kind of woman that perhaps the majority of books would not hesitate to villainise. In The 10PM Question, Frankie gleefully does this himself. He resents her on Sydney’s behalf, but there’s enough room in the narrative for not only his anger and resentment, but also for Sydney’s own resentment of his resentment and for a more nuanced and human portrait of her mother to emerge.

In a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed or imposed upon the narrative in the least, De Goldi contrasts the way Frankie and Sydney see their own families from the inside with the way they perceive each other’s family from the outside. This multiplicity of perspective dispels any hasty or simplistic judgements about family dysfunction from both the characters’ and the readers’ minds. De Goldi excels at a something I’ve been thinking more and more about lately: making the text question itself and challenge its own assumptions in a way that’s visible but never excessively didactic.

The 10PM Question is a story about mental illness, but though it takes its subject matter seriously it’s not ultimately a tragic or a hopeless story. Most of all, it’s a story about acceptance; about doing the best we can under the circumstances. It’s about finding happiness against all odds, not because you’re settling for less but because there’s no reason why life should have to follow a prewritten script. The ending was absolutely perfect: it provides no miracle solutions, but it’s a first step in the right direction – and first steps are very often the most difficult ones to take. Like I mentioned the other day, The 10PM Question is definitely one of my favourite reads of the year so far. Sensitive, perceptive, smart, and often laugh out funny. What else could I ask for?

Favourite bits:
Gigs never seemed to worry. His life was a steady, tidy progress from one activity to another. He would have a task (breakfast, say; or getting his watch fixed; or doing his trombone practice; or buying an ice cream; or finishing a maths project) and he would just do it. He didn’t think about the nutritional value of the breakfast or the ice cream (Gifs never worried about fat intake). He didn’t stress about his maths ability, or his chances for Boy’s College next year, or is batting average, or whether blowing a sustained forte passage on the trombone might accidentally trigger a brain haemorrhage.
There were no detours and distractions, nor interruptions by any of a catalogue of pressing problems. Gigs didn’t worry about his household, his parents, his health, his safety, his future, the probability of earthquakes, terrorism, global warming, or McDonald’s taking over the world. He was a funny guy, and a smart one – and the smartest thing about him, in Frankie’s opinion, was that he never, ever, ever worried.

Frankie raised his eyes to Robert Plant and silently spoke his treacherous thought: I’m tired of it. He looked at Morrie and said the thought aloud, “I’m tired of it.” He was tired, tired, tired, tired, so tired of all the worry, worry about himself, worry about Ma, worry about the world. The instantly he felt shabby and mean, disloyal to Ma, ashamed of himself.

Frankie also worked his way through many books at the City Library, but he did it at a leisurely pace and he mostly chose picture books. He didn’t care what anyone thought about this, but nor did he imagine anyone took the slightest notice. That was the great thing about the library. It was both teeming with people and very private. Everyone was either busy selecting books or returning them or was sprawled in a beanbag, lost in their own reading world.
They read it too:
Reading Cause I’m Addicted
Back to Books
TV and Book Addict
Killing Time Reading

(Yours?)

21 comments:

  1. I wouldn't normally reach out for books on mental illness although it is a subject which interests me. I guess I feel I need to read them at the right time, when I have enough head space. But this looks good and I'll definitely check it out.

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  2. The subject matter really intrigues. A lot of people have been recommending this book lately. Definitely one I want to read.

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  3. This sounds like an amazing book. Dealing with anxiety can be crippling for people, (especially the young) Watching someone you love suffer from it is also painful. Reading your favorite bits, shows me that this writer has a very personal understanding of this disorder. TY :D

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  4. I also have never read a book about recurrent anxiety, and think that this book sounds fascinating. I also like that you mention that the book is told from so many perspectives that it doesn't villainise anyone excessively. It sounds like a great read, and once again your amazing perspective has me adding another book to my wish list! Great review, Ana!

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  5. As someone who deals with anxiety issues of her own, this book definitely sounds like one I need to check out. I'm always interested in authors who can put a unique spin on mental illness, so I'm really glad you brought this book to my attention. It sounds like a really sensitive and moving novel... I can't wait to check it out!

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  6. I really love reading books that portray a mental illness or disorder correctly. It isn't always sunshine and rainbows and sometimes fixing it isn't possible, so acceptance and self-learning are key.

    I hadn't actually ever heard of this one but you and the other bloggers you linked to all seemed to really like it! I wonder if the Kindle store has a copy.... :)

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  7. I haven't heard of this either, but I'm definitely interested in it. I don't suffer from terrible anxiety but I know people who do; it can be terrible! It sounds like this handles it well. I 'll keep an eye out for it!

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  8. Wow, this sounds like a book that goes above and beyond. I LOVE that it explores not just the villainization of Sydney's mom, but also Sydney's defensiveness about her- something I think EVERYONE does for family members. I also love the title and the cover.

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  9. So as if I hadn't already fallen in love with this book from your opening paragraphs, you then say this:

    It’s about finding happiness against all odds, not because you’re settling for less but because there’s no reason why life should have to follow a prewritten script.

    God, how I love that.

    I know I don't have to explain to you why I feel such an urgency to get my hands on this one. Of course, I want to read it...but it sounds like there's a little boy I know who might benefit from reading it with me.

    Thank you, Ana.

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  10. I haven't heard of this book before. Thanks, Ana, for putting it on my tbr list.

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  11. Loved your synopsis of this novel. It's amazing how there really are people who find happiness against all and great odds!
    Sounds like an uplifting and inspirational a read.

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  12. Oh wow..I've never even heard of this before..but it sounds amazing. And like something that I could probably relate to quite a bit!

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  13. Oh, Ana, how I have missed you! Reading this review flashed me back to the dozens and dozens of books I've read about on your blog where I glance at the title and blurb, find myself unmoved, and then read your review and discover that in fact I need to read this book tomorrow. I struggle with anxiety myself (not nearly as much now that I have found a satisfying job), and I feel like books rarely get it right ("right" meaning of course "true to my experience :p). It would be lovely to read one that does.

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  14. This sounds really good, and it's good timing for searching out books to read with the young adults in my house.

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  15. What an interesting sounding book. Plus the cover is awesome. And I love the quote you started your post with. Must see if my library has this one.

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  16. This book sounds so lovely. I was an anxious kid as well, and my mom would read to me before I went to sleep. Sounds like a great recommendation!

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  17. What a great cover, and the book sounds wonderful as well. And another one I hadnt been aware of before your review :)

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  18. Isn't it fantastic??? I'm so glad that you read it and loved it and put into such eloquent words everything that is completely awesome about it :D

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  19. Oooh... I've been tempted by this one a time or two, when I've been browsing the shelves of my local bookshop. But I'd seen many reviews of it, I've seen a couple recently and I think I'll definitely be picking up a copy sooner rather than later. ;)

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  20. I borrowed this from the library after I read your review. I like it so far, AND if I finish it I can say I have read one book for Maree's Kiwi YA Challenge. SCORE! But seriously, it is shaping up as a wonderful story, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. As Amy remarked on her blog, you are dangerous to our TBR lists. Heh. X

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.