Fifteen and on the brink, that’s what Mum says about me. On the brink. Like it’s the continental shelf or something. On the brink of what? I want to yell. A rich and meaningful life? Disaster?
What Now, Tilda B? by Kathryn Lomer centres around Tilda Braint who isn’t sure what she’ll do after Year 10. Her boyfriend Jamie wants to go all the way and her family is disintegrating before her eyes, even with her brother Lukie’s efforts at hypnosis.
When an elephant seal swims to shore on the Dover beach outside her grandparent’s house, Tilda is the first to spot her and ring Parks and Wildlife. Meg, the officer who arrives, congratulates Tilda on her quick thinking and commandeers her to volunteer for watch duties over the young pregnant seal, far from her sub-Antarctic home. Tilda, Meg and local police officer Fin are privy to the awe-inspiring birth of the seal pup and the next morning they see baby Elly suckle for the first time, the second milestone in her start to life in a precarious location.
As Elly suckles the weight from her mother and learns to swim, she is protected by Meg and her volunteers from the hordes of tourists who come from local towns, Hobart and further afield. Tilda helps with watch duties and ponders the seemingly endless succession of questions she can’t find answers to. During the three and a half weeks of the seals’ stay Tilda makes mistakes, finds new friends, wonders if her parents really are getting back together, and realises her questions have answers, some more easily caught than others.
Birth and motherhood are important themes in What Now, Tilda B? The daily sight of the mother seal and her pup, Tilda’s mother’s struggles with being a mother while finding the person she wants to be, and Tilda’s best friend Shelly’s brother’s death at a young age and the strain of grief this put on her family.
Tilda and Shelly have very different views on their sex lives and debate who’s “right” but realise both have chosen the right path by making their own decisions. The book includes frank discussions about choosing when to have sex, contraception (including its inadequacies), the morning after pill, and teenage pregnancy and its reception in a small town. Girls are more likely to enjoy the female perspective than boys.
I found the absence of quotation marks for speech irritating, more than once I confused speech for thought. Tilda’s penchant for exclamation marks also grated. At about page 56 the tense changed from past to present and subsequently occasionally changed back to past tense. There seemed no reason for the tense changes.
I love the cover design by Zoë Sadokierski, as usual her work is mesmerizing. Her design spreads across the front, back and spine, a different view from every angle.
What Now, Tilda B? masquerades as a gentle tale about wildlife protection and Tilda’s last weeks of school. When Tilda overhears a boy say of her
“She’s hot eh? Wouldn’t you just love to f–k the guts out of her?”
the weightier issues begin to surface and a thought provoking story of teenage questioning of the future and the search for answers is revealed.
A version of this review first appeared in Fiction Focus 2010