In Kate de Goldi’s beautiful novel The 10pm Question we meet 12-year-old Frankie Parsons, a young boy with an old soul.
Frankie is a worrier. He worries about his health, his mother, and the rest of his family. He worries about diseases, about smoke alarm batteries, the fat content in his food, and whether his cat has worms. He marvels at those around him who seem to sail through life untroubled by the sea of disasters Frankie spies from every direction.
The smartest thing about his best friend Gigs, Frankie believes, is “that he never, ever, ever worried”. He pours out his fears and anxieties every night at 10pm to his mother, whose patience at his litany of worries knows few bounds.
Frankie’s worries are not unfounded, and when a new friendship forces him to see his life reflected in her eyes, he starts to ask some deeper questions. When the weight of his woes inevitably causes him to stumble, I was heartbroken for him. I truly cared about what would happen to Frankie, to his friends, and his family, and that alone made this book almost perfect to me.
A beautiful reminder of childhood
This book reminded me of something that I often forget: childhood is not just an idyll, enchanted period of magic and imagination and bedtime stories. Childhood is scary. With little experience to form your expectations, the future is limitless – and this is both wonderful and terrible.
A career as an astronaut seems as likely as one as a butcher, but who will talk to you at school in the morning? What if that rash kills you? What if you do grow up to be a soldier and you have to actually go to war? Everything is, as De Goldi puts it, “terrifyingly possible.”
However, the golden parts of childhood aren’t brushed past. As I read, I was reminded of the pure thrill of inventing languages, the disappointment when teachers made me switch partners for school projects, the smell of damp ferns when I ran beneath them on summer mornings, the exhilaration that came when I completed a successful cartwheel.
I remembered the butterflies in my stomach when I made a new friend, the gradual realisation that my parents didn’t know everything, the wonder of learning or discovering things on my own that helped me to make sense of the world.
This book is peopled by characters that immediately seem real and alive, and many of whom I would want to meet (some from a safe distance). Frankie himself is a revelation – he’s curious, neurotic, affectionate and (there’s no other word for him) a darling. His friends are delightful, and if his Aunts suddenly sprang to life and invaded my living room in a cloud of food and whisky fumes I would struggle to contain my glee.
Funny, poignant, and original
The 10pm Question is a funny, poignant, and original book that tackles the subject of anxiety in both children and adults in a compassionate way. It’s definitely a book that grown-ups can relate to and will stay with you long after you reluctantly finish the final page. Intelligent and insightful, The 10pm Question can be found in the children’s section at your local library.
Reviewed by Sophia Graham, Communications Officer, Mental Health Foundation