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Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth by Anna Fienberg

Stories like Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth are becoming few and far between. Those stories of overcoming adversity and creating lifelong friendships and connections that have real meaning. YA fiction can learn a lot from writers like Anna Fienberg. Simple, effective narratives and characters that build to a point of realism within the mind of the reader.

The plot of Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth centres on the life of Frances (note: not with an ‘i’, that would make her a boy - she explains) and her coping mechanisms following the death of her brother in a horrific accident. The family are picking up the pieces of their broken life in a whole new town, school, job, life, everything. It’s a stressful time and each deals with their raw emotions in different ways. Enter the wonderful character of Picasso - a puppy who changes the fortunes of the family from so many angles.

In addition, Frances is finding a connection with a boy at school and her intellect is coming through with her in class ability. The hanging dread of the death of her brother is a driving force for her, both stirring her on while also leaving so much pain and guilt. Blaming herself for the incident, there are moments when your heart wrenches for her.

Yet, through this adversity, there is so much good that comes from it. New leases on life, finding ways to move forward despite heavy trauma. One gets swept along (quite emotionally at times) and yet there is such a celebration of life that you find yourself celebrating the characters' wins at every point.

The writing of this develops as it travels through the narrative. The almost stilted style of writing at the start reflects the state of mind for Frances. Told from a first person perspective, there is a mirroring of the narrative and prosaic style with the depth of sadness that Frances feels towards literally all aspects of her life. But, over the course of meeting Kit and spending more time with Picasso, the writing gains fluency, depth of colour and a range of technical elements that really highlight the skill of Fienberg

Overall, this is a wonderfully emotional ride through life and all its challenges, heightened through the viewpoint of a young narrator. The voice is captured effectively, and there are moments of greatness. A highly recommended read.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Allen & Unwin


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