Dream on, Amber ISBN: 9781908435644
Published by Chicken House Ltd, 2014
Ambra Alessandra Leola Kimiko Miyamoto, known as Amber, is 'almost twelve' and lives in London with her Mum and her six year old sister Bella. She is half Italian and half Japanese, and she believes that her long-handled name is a reflection of her mixed-up heritage - which it is. Her heritage is a problem to her because when she was young her father disappeared and no one in the family has heard from him or seen him since. This disappearance has had some odd effects on Amber, one of which is a hatred and fear of anything unclean or germy. Another is that she feels only half a person because of the lack of her dad in her life. She is also very small for her age, and because of this, has a real inferiority complex. Being a talented artist, she loves drawing but steadfastly refuses to let anyone see her work because she is afraid of criticism. Little Bella also misses having a father, and when she decides to write a letter inviting him to her birthday party, Amber gets a great idea. She will write back to Bella as their dad, explaining that he can't come. As neither girl has his address, this is never going to happen, but the pretend letters go on. The only problem is that Bella's letters become more and more convinced that their dad will arrive on the day. How does Amber get out of this dilemma she has brought on herself? And how does she cope in her new secondary school where she knows almost no one? And how does she cope with her grandmother's cats and their litter trays when she has to clean them, given her 'thing' about germs? Will she get her desperately-wanted new mobile? One of her coping strategies is to invent a new dad, one she can talk too easily and who will support her absolutely. She does this by drawing him over and over and then sitting on her bed and talking to her new best friend. Her mother is supportive too, as is her very Italian grandmother, but it is the father figure that Amber really needs. What Amber has learned about the Samurai finally helps her to metaphorically 'kill' the monster under her bed, the black monster that has affected her life for so long - including being bullied at school, her dad's defection, and her sorrow for Bella's sadness. When she wins the art prize at school, we want to shout hurrah, and Amber is well on the way to the self-esteem and the feeling of completeness she has needed so badly. This is a meaty, long novel that a review such as this cannot cover adequately. There are all sorts of 'wheels within wheels' going on, but it is a real page-turner, and we want badly for Amber to find her way. Lots of black and white illustrations surround the pages and the theme of Amber's Italian and Japanese halves fighting it out is well handled. I loved it, and children will too, and those with mixed parentage may well find it of seminal value to their own self-esteem.