27 Degrees by Justin D’Ath
Published by Penguin Random House
Date: 8 January 2019
As I sit here on a 45-degree day I feel the intensity of the heat, but I am safe and staying cool inside. The reality for author Justin D’Ath ten years ago was very different, and he has captured the experiences he faced and has put them into a work of fiction for 10 year olds and older.
This thrilling story follows Zeelie and her family as they fight for survival during the Black Saturday Bushfires. Zeelie and her father Dan are getting ready to protect their home while the temperatures soar to 47 Degrees. Her mother and brother are safe at the hospital, seeking help for Zeelie’s brother Lachy who has a suspected broken bone after falling off her beloved horse, Rimu.
While Zeelie and her dad prepare the house in Flowerdale, a small town in Victoria, there are many moments of uncertainty, fear and questions – many of which go unanswered. When Dan realises that they can no longer stay and defend, the must do all that they can to protect themselves and their dogs. This creates even more conflict for Zeelie when she realises that she has to leave her much loved and adored horse Rimu behind.
It was really heartening to see, that regardless of what Zeelie comes up against, she shows fear and bravery, uncertainty and confidence, trauma and eventual respite. Even when she felt her lowest, she managed to keep going.
In a chapter titled Refugees, it was the first time I had heard the word being used in this context. I have always referred to refugees as people who are displaced from their homes internationally. However, Justin D’Ath uses the word when Zeelie’s father explains that they are now refugees because they have no place to go. I feel like the acknowledgement of this is where the book turned into a time of accepting their situation but by no means giving up the fight.
One of the most sensitively approached sections of the book is where they close out the storyline on Zeelie’s horse Rimu. Justin hasn’t gone into detail about the outcome specifically, but it was clear what happened. I felt that Justin thought about how the reader might react and dealt with it in a way that wouldn’t distress the reader.
Some parts of this book were confronting for me as an adult, mainly because I felt a great sadness for those that were affected by the events of this bush fire ten years ago. It is the honesty and openness of the author that has given me insight into the realities of Black Saturday, and because of this the book is a real tribute to those affected by it.
Reading this book together as a family would be a good opportunity to answer any questions your child has and for them to talk about their feelings about it. It is one of those must reads even if you aren’t a child. I certainly gained a lot out of reading it and I hope you do too. Thank you, Justin, for putting your heart and soul into something so personal.
Thank you Penguin Random House for the opportunity to honestly read and review 47 Degrees.