Title: Norah’s Ark
Author: Victoria Williamson
Publisher: Neem Tree Press
Publication Date: 21 Aug2023
Comment: I was given a free copy via @thewritereads and the publisher @neemtreepress. All opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by the idea that social services will take me away from my dad.
Norah Day lives in temporary accommodation, relies on food banks for dinner, and doesn’t have a mum. But she’s happy enough with her dad and a mini zoo of rescued wildlife to care for. Adam Sinclair lives with his parents in a lovely house with a private tutor and everything he could ever want. But his life isn’t perfect- far from it. He’s stuck at home recovering from cancer with an overprotective mum and no friends.
When a nest of baby birds brings them together as an animal rescue team, Adam and Norah discover they’re not so different after all. Can they solve the mystery of Norah’s missing mother together? And can their teamwork save their zoo of rescued animals from the rising flood?
First of all, thank you to Neem Tree Books for sending me a physical copy of the book and to Dave @thewritereads for allowing me a few day’s leeway to get my review up. (Sorry about the wait!)
Look how pretty the bundle was when it appeared!
As some of you may know I work in a library and there has been a wonderful new influx of realistic books about the troubles kids go through. From “It’s a No Money Day” by Kate Milner to “My Dad’s in Prison” by Jackie Walter and “Roam” by C.H Armstrong (which I have reviewed on this site before) there is a trend towards showcasing the real life struggles of people today.
Norah’s Ark is one of those books.
Norah and her dad don’t have a proper home, not since the last hostel kicked them out for failing to pay their rent on time. But it isn’t her dad’s fault- the council keeps messing up his benefits and as soon as he gets a new job it seems it’s time for layoffs. All Norah wants is a place to live where she can have as many animals as possible- cats, dogs, rabbits, rats she doesn’t care. But they can barely afford to feed themselves let alone an animal.
Adam’s life stopped when he got leukaemia. He had to give up everything, his friends, his dog and his freedom. His mother is so paranoid about him getting sick again that he’s practically a prisoner in his own home, even though he’s in remission.
When Norah finds an abandoned baby bird’s nest behind Adam’s garden, the two of them forge a strange friendship based on their love of animals. Hidden from his overanxious mother and her frustrated father they come together secretly to save as many animals as possible.
But, thanks to global warming, flooding puts their little zoo in danger and it will require every bit of their bravery to save it.
Although it’s politically correct I refuse to use the term “Food insecurity”. I’ll call it what it is- Poverty. It comes from the Old French word poverte meaning “destitution, want, need or insufficiency of money or goods,”. If you can’t afford food or don’t know where it’s coming from- that’s poverty. If you can’t afford a house or shoes or clothes- that’s poverty.
Food insecurity is a polite label for a social epidemic.
I shall now climb off my soapbox.
This book deals with the issue of poverty in a heart-rending but realistic way. It lays the blame where it belongs- on the system.
Norah’s dad is trying to get a job but every time he does the benefits dry up and he struggles to make ends meet because the most companies offer these days is a zero-hour contract so they don’t have to offer benefits like sick pay or annual leave. When they won’t give hours or overtime or even companies fold, her dad is unemployed again and then it takes months for the government benefits to come through again; by that time the rent is late and they are evicted. When he asks where he’s supposed to take his daughter rather than sleeping on the streets, they tell him to inform the job centre. The part that broke my heart was this:
Linda’s writing it all down and frowning, “Right, there’s definitely grounds for making a claim for all the lost benefits. Have you-“Norah’s Ark p 182
“I’ve filled in the forms with the job centre three times now, and sat on the phone for hours, but nothing’s ever come of it,” Dad sighs, sounding defeated.
I remember when my dad was made redundant after being “on the sick” (long-term sick leave for illness) for a while. The amount of hassle he went through to get the benefits office to send him money was ridiculous. It was always wrong and he would spend hours on the phone or filling in forms. He tried to be honest if he, or Mum, got a temporary job. But every time the benefits office would stop payments before the first payslip appeared; but if the job disappeared it took months before any money was seen. Once they even sent him a letter saying he hadn’t told them about Mum’s new job (after two years of her working!) and they informed him he owed them reimbursement for the time she was working. Thankfully my dad is uber organized and he had kept a copy of every single letter, email and form and was able to show them that not only had he informed them but they had acknowledged receipt of the letter so they couldn’t say they didn’t know.
All that to say I understood Norah’s dad’s defeat. To go round and round in circles, trying to do everything right for your kids and having to fight tooth and nail for even the basics is exhausting, demeaning and disheartening.
The grown-ups in this book were all trying their best but it was easy to see how beaten down they had become.
This should have made this one depressing read. Except despite the rather grim shadow of poverty and the background themes of climate change, bullying and childhood sickness, this book was reasonably upbeat.
Norah and Adam understood their lot in life and tried to do the best with what they had. The fact that both of them were trying to keep their family together even whilst being burdened with worries that should have been left to the adults was inconsequential to the joy that came from sneaking out and saving animals.
Their friendship was wonderful and the plot was both sweet and exciting. No spoilers but during one scene I was right on the edge of my seat.
I’d recommend this book to anyone in the older reader levels of 8 plus. The language was easy enough to understand for any child and the pace was steady and engaging.
I just thought that this was such a beautiful book and I’m hoping to buy one for the library. Thanks again to Neem Tree Books for giving me the opportunity to read it.