twelve: end of the alphabet by fleur beale
End of the Alphabet by Fleur Beale,
Auckland : Random, 2009
Ruby Yarrow, the girl least likely to succeed, is a naïve fourteen year old New Zealander struggling to find her place in a blended family. Her younger step-brothers are piled on top of her in the smallest bedroom while her other brother Max (aged about 13) rules the house with his selfish behaviour. She is made to feel ashamed of her learning difficulties, but with her best friend’s intervention she begins to stand up for herself – that’s when the trouble begins.
Through first person narrative readers witness Ruby’s small acts of defiance that challenge Max as he leaves domestic duties to her and disengages himself from family. He’s the smart son, but lazy and surly, while Ruby struggles each day as a cleaner for the shopkeeper Mr Vine to finance a school trip-of-a-lifetime.
Her pay dispute with Mr Vine leads to her threatening union involvement, while her dispute with her mother over privacy leads to a domestic strike. Ruby’s learning difficulties appear to be given scant attention at school, while her mother openly derides her options in life. With a new friendship, Ruby begins to learn Portuguese.
Max is so threatened by Ruby’s personal growth he absconds to Australia, which is where the novel shows its plot holes. Max and Ruby’s estranged father, Hayden, who they haven’t had contact with for nearly thirteen years, pays for Max’s plane ticket and makes a place for him in his new family. Has Max a passport or visa, and why did Hayden not contact Max’s mother to arrange the move? This is an unfortunate example of a deus ex machina for a situation that could have been solved differently.
This is a light read, with stronger texts available to encourage adolescent self-belief. Readers will find other Beale novels and characters more engaging.