Book Review: The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi

Publisher: Templar Publishing

First Published: September 2008

Format: Paperback

Pages: 252

Genre: Contemporary, YA

Recommended Reading Age: 12+

Rating: 10/10

Amazon/Goodreads

‘Frankie Parsons is twelve going on eighty – an apparently sensible boy growing up in New Zealand, he has a drumbeat of worrying questions steadily gaining volume in his head:

Are the smoke alarm batteries flat?

Does the cat, and therefore the rest of the family, have worms?

Will bird flu strike and ruin life as we know it?

Most of the people in Frankie’s life seem gloriously untroubled by worry. Only Ma takes his catalogue of persistent anxieties seriously, listening patiently to the questions he brings her at 10pm each night. But when a new girl arrives at school with relentless, unavoidable questions of her own, Frankie’s carefully controlled world begins to unravel. Will he be able to face up to the unpalatable, ultimate 10pm question?’

I should warn you now – I don’t think this review will be very well-written. I’m not sure I’m able to express my love, adoration, and pure joy with this book.

Quite simply, it is stunning. Heartbreaking, poignant, hilarious, beautiful, wonderful. It’s something very special. 

In many ways I’m surprised to find it in the children’s section, as it is so insightful, with an unusual story-line and a sophisticated voice rarely seen in children’s fiction. But I’m delighted Templar (and previous publishing houses) are putting this kind of storytelling out there. Make no mistake – this is certainly a book for all ages.

I have to start with Frankie. He is adorable. I wanted to simultaneously be his best friend and adopt him. This kid had some seriously high stress levels and his anxieties, thoughts and concerns had me in stitches many times (don’t worry Frankie – I’m totally with you on the whole pool thing, I avoid them for that very same reason).

Frankie is a shy, reserved, intelligent, imaginative kid with a talent for drawing, who particularly likes birds. He’s also a bit of a hypochondriac and ever so slightly neurotic and while there are many delightful and funny moments throughout The 10pm Question that stem from his bizarre range of worries, it’s also clear that they are very serious to him and everything is starting to overwhelm Frankie. Sydney, his new best friend is loud, and vibrant and spontaneous, and asks awkward questions. Ma won’t leave the house and no one will talk about it. When it finally all becomes too much for him, my heart just broke for the little guy and I just wanted to give him a big hug – luckily, the fabulous Aunts are there just when he needs them the most.

Speaking of. The Aunts. were. amazing. I kind of want to be them when I’m old. They were hilarious and wise and filled their lives with many great things.

The 10pm Question is very much a character driven novel, but what brilliant characters. This fabulous, insane, eccentric, hilarious, utterly normal family. The way they interact, how they care for one another, how they bicker and argue and support each other – it was refreshing and captivating and I missed them once I finished reading. The relationships were spot on, but the bond between Frankie and his mother is particularly strong. Every night, at 10pm, Frankie goes to her with his fears and worries for the day and she patiently listens to him and answers all his questions, fighting the world for Frankie in the only way she can.

Ma was a lovely character, though she is probably the one we get to know least, because Frankie guards her so closely. She forges a life for herself, in the best she can, and her strength and courage in the face of her own crippling fears. I couldn’t help but admire her and the love she has for her family, and they for her.

The 10pm Question is the kind of book that makes me wish I were I writer. Full of humour, wit, compassion and richly developed characters that will stay with you long after you finish the book. Kate De Goldi tackles the difficult subject of mental illness in a way that is thoughtful, quiet, powerful, moving, respectful, eloquent and truthful. Frankie loves his mother. But he doesn’t understand how or why she is the way she is. Reading how Frankie and the rest of Parson’s family cope with their loved one’s condition boarders on the personal.

Kate De Goldi is extremely talented, as what could have easily been a depressing, awkward novel in someone else’s hands, instead is filled with a warmth and leaves you very much with a feeling of hope. The 10pm Question made me laugh. It made me cry. It reminded me of some of my own childhood memories, long forgotten.

This is a unique treasure of a book I will revisit time and time again (and has some wonderful cover art). Read it.

‘Last Saturday when they’d been there he’d had his annual unsavory collision with a plaster. There was nothing more revolting in Frankie’s view than free-styling your way, innocent and blissful, into the path of a used plaster. In Frankie’s hierarchy of squeamish experiences, the casual caress of a stained plaster was right up there with accidently catching sight of writhing maggots in a forgotten rubbish bag. He’d had to get out of the pool immediately last Saturday and lie on his towel in the sun to recover.’

~ page 37

‘C’mon, throw it, throw it. I may as well get the shine on the end of my knob.’ 

~ page 71.

Frankie. I love you. Bonga Swetso.

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