Thirteen-year-old Lexie lives with her mother in a commission flat, one of many in a large building. She witnesses the cruel killing of a resident’s Jack Russell from the top of the building, some 27 floors high. Davey, another resident, also witnesses the cruelty and the owner, Mr Romanov’s subsequent distress. Rumours abound about Mr Romanov, nicknamed the Creeper, but it is not until this incident that Lexie and Davey get to know him. Soon after his dog is killed Lexie sees Mr Romanov on the top floor of the building. After saving him from jumping, Lexie enlists Davey’s help to clean Mr Romanov’s flat. They soon become firm friends and decide to continue helping Mr Romanov in his project of making a rooftop garden. Both Lexie and Davey have family situations they would rather not be reminded of and this provides a welcome distraction. Lexie’s mother is a heroin addict while Davey’s father is in jail. Lexie shares her dream to visit Surfers Paradise and the three decide to make the trip, from Melbourne to Queensland. What an interesting trio for a road trip, Mr Romanov, with his memory not what is used to be, Davey, with his ‘bung eye’, mind full of facts, and his Dad incarcerated, and Lexie with her young life far too complicated than it ought to be.
This is a strong story of friendship and courage. Newton has a way of depicting his characters and settings explicitly. I have always loved his writing, have always known his characters as if they are real people and have been transported to his settings. Mr Romanov’s Garden in the Sky is no exception. All the characters are well rounded and the dialogue flows beautifully. The banter between Lexie and Davey is sometimes laugh out loud funny, while at other times incredibly sad. This emotiveness is conveyed throughout the narrative, not just in the dialogue of the characters. Newton knows how to influence his readers.
Newton’s portrayal of adult characters is authentic and genuine. Although some are in positions of authority and should act accordingly, doing the right thing is not always the best for all involved. Lexie receives some help from unexpected members of the community and the outcomes are rewarding.
This book, like so many young adult novels, and specifically works of Robert Newton, are not just for teen readers. A well-written narrative allows the reader to see everything from various perspectives, and this certainly does. I think we pigeonhole books into readership categories all too easily, for this one is for everyone.
Many thanks to Penguin Random House Australia for supplying this book for review.