A Small Free Kiss in the Dark

A Small Free Kiss in the Dark by Glenda Millard.

Post by Jenni.

The best books take readers into the ordinary places and routines in the lives of ostensibly unexceptional characters, and transform their interactions into things of beauty and rarity. In many such novels, as this one, the writing style is unostentatious, not particularly descriptive or beautiful, even sometimes seemingly a little naiive and simplistic.

Books such as these have an artistry, for me, that is magical – they are so well put together that I can’t really deconstruct how they manage to lift their characters up, but I know from experience that they take their readers with them and it is a wonderful, transformative journey which leaves us the wiser, the world around us imbued with the aura of specialness which has rubbed off from the world of the novel. Louise Erdrich does this with the best of her novels, like The Master Butcher’s Singing Club, and Glenda Millard, whom I’m proud to note is an Australian, achieves it for a Young Adult audience with A Small Free Kiss in the Dark.

But on to the story. It follows Skip, a damaged twelve or thirteen year old who expresses his love via the safe method of chalk drawing. He’s used to feeling disappointed in people, and each positive relationship he forms, even if a fleeting one, is one that he treasures in a furtive, desperate way which he tries, often unsuccessfully, to dissemble from. Skip has been disappointed in his parents and has been living on the streets for some time when he finds, to his surprise, that he is tolerated when he hangs around him by Billy, an old homeless man with a limp. Billy turns out to be goodhearted, and they form a partnership which brings out a protectiveness and selfishness in Skip which shames him when war breaks out and they meet up with little Max who needs their help desperately. But 6 year old Max turns out, like so many things which take us beyond our comfort zone, to be a joy to Skip and a way back to the childhood which has been taken from him so prematurely. Thus, a pathway to healing and purpose.

The three make their way to an abandoned amusement park, which makes a marvelous setting for the final events of the book in which they meet Mia and her baby – another challenging inclusion to the little group. Here we have some action which distinguishes this novel from those suitable for a primary school audience, as Mia engages in sex, and is possibly raped, by the soldiers who sustain her with their gifts. Mia’s attitude towards her baby is also inconsistent and challenging at times, but they, too eventually are included in the small circle of those whom Skip loves – for he is so desperately keen to love and be loved, and we love him for it- and it is Mia who gives Skip a chaste, kind, kiss one night, before her fate overtakes her to our intense sadness, both for her beautiful qualities, and for Skip, that he may never again experience a transient, fluttering innocent love.