“You’ve got to admire the technical skill,” said Uncle George, looking down at it too. “The precision really is magnificent. And then, it’s render unto Caesar—” “Okay, okay,” said Frankie. The Fat Controller had left a perfectly cleaned rat kidney and one complete rat eyeball. Her best work yet, Frankie noted with one part of his mind, even as he shuddered at the revoltingness of it. The kidney was a deep red-black, tiny and delicate as a semi-precious stone. It had the look of something licked to a high polish. [loc. 1593]
Set in a small South Island town in New Zealand, The 10PM Question is the story of 12-year-old Frankie. Frankie lives with his mother, his Uncle George, his older sister Gordana, and the Fat Controller (who is the family cat). He spends his time worrying: whether the batteries in the smoke alarm need changing; whether he really does have 'excessive female hormones' as his sister suggests; 'whether blowing a sustained forte passage on the trombone might accidentally trigger a brain haemorrhage'; whether his maths ability is on par for his age. But underneath it all, he is determinedly not worrying about the most important thing: why his mother Francie hasn't left the house for years. Every night at 10 p.m. Frankie goes into his mother's bedroom and asks her about his latest anxiety. Some of her answers are insightful; some are simply amusing.
Into Frankie's small, anxious world bursts new girl Sydney, a blithe extrovert who is curious about Frankie's home life. Sydney's approach to life makes Frankie question his own: and Sydney's questions frame Frankie as a person with answers, which helps to balance his own world view. And, as it turns out, Frankie isn't the only one with a problem parent.
This was an unexpectedly lovely read: some gorgeous lyrical writing, some extremely funny scenes, and an utterly credible protagonist. Frankie's 12 going on 50: his mind leaps from topic to topic in that disconnected way of pre-teens, but underlying it all there's a grinding sense of his burden of responsibility. The 10PM Question deals sensitively with mental health issues and doesn't pretend there are easy answers. (I was so glad the novel didn't end with a miraculous recovery or cure for Francie!) I'll look out for more by De Goldi.