In our very last post (sadface) for the KYD YA Championship, YA advocate Adele Walsh shows you why David McRobbie’s Mandragora should win the crown. Don’t forget to vote, everyone! Details at the end of the post.
I was eleven when I read David McRobbie’s Mandragora – when I first dove into the seaside community of Dunarling and the perspective of Adam Hardy. It stood out as a memorable read for me as a child, was definitely a worthwhile re-read as an adult and remains a teacher’s choice for classroom reading. In all three reading experiences, Mandragora captures the vivid imagination of the reader, delving into our nation’s maritime migration, while weaving the spooky and the scary throughout.
What David McRobbie tackles within the pages of this book seems too complicated to summarise. A girl and a boy; a tale told in two separate timelines, wherein a bitter curse is wreaked upon four mandrake dolls. These dolls play with the minds and lives of a seaside town’s residents, and form the centre of a legacy that overshadows them all.
Opening with Adam thinking over his obsession with the unapologetic Catriona Chisholm, Mandragora could play as a standard tale of romantic love. Instead, Adam is ambushed by the school bullies whilst mooning over a beachcombing Catriona, and his literal fall uncovers a century-old cave. This cave is where sailor hero Jamie Ramsay and mysterious Margaret sheltered for days after the ill-fated wreck of the Dunarling (for which the town had been named), and the mandrake dolls are uncovered.
Adam is a wonderful gateway for a YA audience: uncomplicated and relatively untroubled, his character allows the many unbelievable aspects of the plot to ring true, especially when he continues to long for the captivating Catriona. Catriona is a character I have long since loved; she refuses to be defined, owns her feelings and is unflinchingly honest. If this mysterious and meddling force swept across your town, you would want these two alongside you in the trenches.
With today’s YA market saturated by the paranormal, the notion of possessed mandrake dolls might sound a touch underwhelming, but they aren’t. There is a pervading sense of danger as people are possessed; buildings burn and the young lovers (past and present) suffer the wrath of a wronged woman and the tools of her dissent.
McRobbie was short listed for the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards in the Older Readers category in 1992. As such, Mandragora has no mobile or internet technology to hasten the plot, and the mention of dot matrix computer printouts and floppy disks may fly over the heads of today’s teens. Regardless, McRobbie’s genius use of different mediums, from diaries to dreams, family bibles, newspaper articles and even possessed murmurings, helps deepen our understanding of his world, characters and history. McRobbie’s direct style allows the historical and paranormal elements to take centre stage.
McRobbie has crafted characters that endear and repulse. He utilises language from the 1880s to craft character and generate misunderstanding; those possessed speak with a Scottish tongue amidst the chaotic yet meticulous movements of the plot. There is an ever-present urgency with his writing, a sense that we are plummeting towards utter destruction alongside Adam and Catriona. And yet there are moments of connection between potential loves, parents and friends. The small moments are just as poignant as the unfolding tragedy that is upon them. There is an agency to each character as they attempt to circumnavigate danger or act upon unknown evil desires, tumbling forward with a captivating mix of malice and heart.
Mandragora deserves the crown as it is a shining example of genre fusion, multi-narrative storytelling and strong character arcs. For those of you unfamiliar, Mandragora is basically Lost ten years before its time, and it achieves what the show did not – a satisfying conclusion to an innovative story. Drawing upon Australia’s rich maritime history, Victorian locations and a mystical dark force, Mandragora is McRobbie’s masterpiece.
Adele Walsh is the Program Coordinator for the Centre for Youth Literature, providing online content as well as programming events to promote literature for, and to, young adults. Adele is an avid YA reader and advocate, and a successful YA blogger (Persnickety Snark). She has previously worked as a teacher in Australia, and Japan.
If you want Mandragora to win the KYD YA Championship, you can cast your vote for it here! Vote now and you can also go into the draw to win some amazing prizes.
David McRobbie was born in Glasgow in 1934. After an apprenticeship he joined the Merchant Navy as a marine engineer and sailed the world, or some of it. Eventually he worked his passage to Australia, got married and settled down for a bit only to move to Papua New Guinea where he trained as a teacher.
Subsequently he found work as a college lecturer, then a researcher for parliament. Back in Australia in 1974 he joined the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as a producer of radio and television programs for young people.
In 1990 he gave up this work to become a full time writer for children and young adults. He has written over thirty paperbacks, mainly novels, but some are collections of short stories, plays and ‘how-to’ books on creative writing.
Three of his novels were adapted for television, with David writing all of the sixty-five scripts — the first being The Wayne Manifesto in 1996, followed by Eugénie Sandler, PI then Fergus McPhail. These shows were broadcast throughout the world, including Australia and Britain on BBC and ITV.
The BBC adapted another of David’s novels for television — See How They Run, which became the first BBC/ABC co-production.
At the age of 79, David is still at work. His most recent paperback novels are Vinnie’s War, (Allen & Unwin) published in 2011, about childhood evacuation in the second world war. This was followed by To Brave The Seas, in 2013, a story about a 14-year-old boy who sails in Atlantic convoys during WW2. Both books are available online.
Where to buy in print
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 13,200. Language: Commonwealth English. Published: October 18, 2017. Categories: Essay » Literature
This essay shows how to use conflict in creative writing. It provides many examples illustrating the use of conflict in many kinds of writing.
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 10,310. Language: Australian English. Published: August 21, 2014. Categories: Nonfiction » Education and Study Guides » Literacy, Nonfiction » Children's Books » Writing
Roads To Writing is the first book in a proposed series on creative writing. This one deals with handling dialogue, which for some is a tricky business. But it needn’t be. The rules are quite simple and with these wise words and examples to guide your fingers, you’ll soon know all about inverted commas, the ‘he said - she said’ bit and how to make better use of dialogue in your writing.
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 34,630. Language: English (Scottish dialect). Published: July 16, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Adventure » Action
Beatrice McMullin, a 12-year-old orphan meets a ghost sister and brother who need her help. Before becoming ghosts, the girl and boy were given an important task to perform. It’s a well-known fact that ghosts are ghosts because they still have business with the living. Beatrice agrees to help, then finds herself caught up in a crazy hunt for some royal regalia, with just a bit of comedy thrown in.
Price: $5.99 USD. Words: 18,300. Language: Australian English. Published: July 6, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Humor & comedy » General, Fiction » Children’s books » Computers
Shaun is no ordinary teenage boy, in fact he’s not a boy at all. Shaun is a robot, otherwise known as Robo-dude, a domestic helper around the house. He has been bought by mother and daughter, Sandra and Chloe Wilson to bring some order into their busy lives. But things don’t run smoothly after all and it falls to Shaun to bring matters to a head.
Price: $9.99 USD. Words: 70,930. Language: Australian English. Published: June 19, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Thriller and Suspense, Fiction » Historical » Australia & New Zealand
Two shipwreck survivors, a seventeen-year-old girl and a young seaman, shelter in a cave to wait out the storm. They find warmth, security and love. When they leave the cave something evil is left behind. A hundred years later, another young couple uncover the place where the lovers found sanctuary. But some things are best left undisturbed. Here are four of them.
Price: Free! Words: 12,150. Language: Australian English. Published: June 10, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Readers / Chapter Books, Fiction » Children’s books » Law & Crime
Somebody turned on the art room ceiling fans to their highest position and their wind ruined a beautiful work of art. Charlie Thomson gets the blame, so he sets out to clear his name in this mystery yarn which has a crime, suspects, a detective and clues. And this story, like all good mystery yarns, also has a denouement — the bit at the end where the detective unmasks the real culprit.
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 28,290. Language: Australian English. Published: May 25, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Young adult or teen » Thriller and Suspense
Livy, the She of this story, challenges Rob to a dare. He reluctantly undertakes the challenge then finds the object of the dare is far from innocent. In fact it's part of a criminal conspiracy — and there are people keen to recover their property. She is a fast paced thriller with a hint of comedy.
Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 15,520. Language: Australian English. Published: May 5, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Children’s books » Action & Adventure / Pirates
The teenage years are like Falling Up Stairs — quite painful but you eventually reach the top. Here are two stories about boys who are in the middle of their hurtful journeys. Matthew just wants to win the girl of his dreams — but the dreams intrude into his realities. Geoffrey, in the second story, just wants a well-ordered life — hard to do when he finds himself caught up in a bank robbery.
David McRobbie's tag cloud
comedy comedy about relationships comedy about success and failure creative writing demonic possession dialogue dialogue punctuation mystery action teens mystery fiction primary school robots androids school based mystery story about a ghost helping teenage thriller time travel writing a short story writing for publication