Review | Friday 26 October 2012
Whisky is William, Charlie is his identical twin brother, and learning the foxtrot is one of the many incidents that drive the two apart in this absorbing story about families, shifting perspective and the task of bringing people back together, however messy that may be. Using the two-way alphabet, from Alpha to Zulu, Annabel Smith gives the novel a neat, satisfying structure that corresponds authentically to each event and character in a story that begins when the boys are young and ends in their thirties.
From the beginning we know that Whisky is in a coma and Charlie is wrestling with their estrangement. We go back to find out how they got to this point. Early on, Smith deftly sets us up to be on Charlie’s side.
The boys are nine and living in England – best mates with walkie-talkies (hence the alphabet), a twin bond and the early signs of their contrasting personalities. At 15 they’re emigrating to Australia, Charlie believing, like many people who relocate, that he can finally reinvent himself as someone distinct from his over-confident twin. Through Charlie we feel the burden of having a more talented sibling, apparently oblivious to his feelings.
But as the way Charlie feels about Whisky starts to affect every aspect of his life – from the way he sells himself short career-wise to the cowardice he displays in relationships – we realise that it’s time he learned that relationships, as well as the alphabet, are ‘two-way’.
Charlie is easy to warm to and maddening in equal parts. Smith’s style is fresh and elegant. For anyone who has a challenging relationship with a sibling, the novel is a skilful, emotional wake-up call that should have a wide appeal (including YA readers, older teens and up) for its wonderful charting of life from age nine to 30.
Emily Gale is a Children’s & YA Specialist at Readings Carlton, and a Children’s & YA writer the rest of the time. Her other title is 'Mum', or more accurately 'Muuuuuuuuum!'