By Kathryn Siebel
Published by Oxford University Press
ISBN 97801927 458 66
A title, like a book cover, is often the first thing that makes someone pick up a particular book in a bookshop. A title as bland as Missing Arabella isn’t going to say “Read me! I’m interesting!” to many bookworms, which is a great pity, because behind this unimaginative intro is an excellent debut novel from a new and promising YA writer.
Arabella and Henrietta are identical twins, but they are miles apart in personality. The gap between them was obvious at birth. Even as a newborn, Arabella was blessed with smiles and a sunny, attractive demeanour, while Henrietta was not. As young girls, they get along well, though. It’s the adults who notice their differences and act accordingly. Arabella and Henrietta would have a very different story if there were no adults around.
The two girls may be twins but they have separate birthdays: Arabella was born at the end of April 2, and Henrietta entered the world a few minutes later on the day after. Good parents, of course, don’t favour one child above another, but Mr and Mrs Osgood don’t know this rule.
Arabella with her smiles and good nature is showered with love and affection, while Henrietta, serious and shy, is pushed to one side and sometimes totally forgotten by both parents and household servants.
That doesn’t affect the girls’ relationship until one day when Henrietta’s tolerance of the situation cracks. She devises a plan that will make the two of them equal. But her plan misfires, and a severe punishment is meted out to the poor girl by her mean parents.
For the first time in their lives, the sisters are separated. Henrietta is sent away to live with an eccentric old aunt. It doesn’t take long for the Osgood parents to forget Henrietta, but Arabella doesn’t forget. She works out a plan to leave home and go find her sister. And so, one twin sets off into the unknown in search of her lost other half. What is going to happen to her along the way?
Missing Arabella is a tale of adventure, comedy, mischief, the power of friendship and that special bond that exists between sisters. An unnamed mother recounts the story to her daughter, whose interruptions form an intriguing framework to the tale that Kathryn Siebel has to tell.
And for once, the black and white drawings that head each chapter contribute to the Gothic atmosphere that mists through the whole novel. This is a highly entertaining read even if you don’t have a twin, or parents who are mean to you because of a bubblier and smilier sibling.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com