Lexie felt her whole world was grey. The Commission building, she lived in sucked the life out of her. Her mother was a junkie and mostly not around, and when she was, she wasn’t with her. It was Lexie’s thirteenth birthday and she planned to celebrate. She raced to the shop, dodging Gordo, the tough bully who was squeezing money out of everyone in the complex. That’s when she spied a lonely figure on the roof. The Creeper was an old guy and Lexie couldn’t just watch him jump from the roof. A couple of days before the Creepers’ dog had been thrown off the roof. She raced up to the top of the building to talk. From then on everything changed for Lexie.
She discovered Mr Romanov was just a lonely old man living in squalor. She decided that she would get his place cleaned up. The managed to get her friend Davey to come and help. They talked to Mr Romanov and discovered he was harmless and had a secret plan to build a roof garden. It was a crazy idea and before they knew it the three of them were putting the boxes together and shovelling in the soil Mr Romanov had been bringing up, bit by bit, over the previous few years. He was called the Creeper because he always wore a trench coat went out in the early evenings, now they knew why he’d been doing this.
Lexie had a dream to go to Surfer’s Paradise. When her dad was alive they camped in her room and he would lay out maps and ask where she wanted to go. She always said the same destination. It was her dream to get away from a grey world and find one filled with colour. Davey had his own dream destination and now their new friend Mr Romanov had a car and could take them away. The three set off on a road trip after a run in with Gordo, when Mr Romanov got the upper hand he made an enemy that would have repercussions.
The journey takes them to unexpected places. Lexie and Davy discover Mr Romanov is unwell, the old car is unregistered, and the old man doesn’t even have a licence. They learn about friendship and what their real goals are. Lexie keeps going even when she finds out her mother has had an overdose and is in the hospital.
I loved how these three misfits discovered their respective goals were not what they imagined. That returning to the Commission wasn’t so bad. I’m sure that kids of all ages will relate to the feeling of not belonging and trying to find a place to be yourself.
I had the pleasure of seeing Robert speak at Somerset Literary Festival earlier this year and to get a signed copy of this book. He is an engaging speaker, as a fellow writer, I loved that he told the kids; ‘I can see me stop being a firefighter but not stop being a writer.’ It is an all-encompassing obsession we share.
This is my Goodreads review: In brief, this is a YA’s coming of age story. Fitzroy Commission units couldn’t be greyer and the friendship forged by simply being able to share the worst cards life can deal out, brilliantly woven into the story. Would Lexie ever get to Surfer’s Paradise? Would Davey get his wish? And why did Mr Romanov have a dream about building a garden in the sky?