Renee Mihulka – Children's Book Reviews & Writer

The slightly true story of Cedar B. Hartley (who planned to live an unusual life)

Cedar BOVERALL: 4 Stars

Concept:3.5 Stars
Characters:4 Stars
Plot:4 Stars
Writing:4.5 Stars


Martine Murray
Martine Murray
Abrams Books


Description: Cedar B. Hartley has a huge imagination and quirky way of looking at things. In this book she is coming to terms with her brother Barnaby running away, her mother’s frequent absences and the kids on her street. Basically, she is trying to work out how life and the people in it work.

Concept: This is a coming of age book, so in that sense the concept is nothing new, however it is quirky, and whimsical and Martine Murray’s voice is both strong and unique. This book deals with a lot of issues and focuses on the areas of family and extracurricular friendships of an eleven year old girl. I found it interesting that there is almost a complete absence of school life, so in this way it is quite different.

Characters: It is hard not to really like Cedar. She seems very authentic although at times I did get the feeling that her opinions were a bit sophisticated for an eleven year old girl. For instance, I don’t see a girl writing: ‘Hi Oscar, do you like eggs? We have two hens. My brother is a whistling wandering duck and I am learning to fly. from Cedar’ But I guess this just added to her quirkiness. For the most part the characters were authentic and relatable, except for Cedar’s brother Barnaby, whose postcards were weird. I don’t think he was a very believable 17 year old, but then maybe I am not giving 17 year olds much credit. There is no doubt that Murray painted many vivid portraits of people from Oscar to Ricci to Kite and that she could not be accused of not including interesting characters.

Plot: I found this quite meandering at first and it actually took me quite a while to get into this book. In fact I had to force myself to read it for a few chapters until I got into it. The book really picks up after Cedar meets Kite and they start to have a purpose and a goal. I also felt that the big ‘secret’ about Cedar’s Dad fell a bit flat and seemed to be almost forced into the end.

Writing: There is no doubt that in this book Murray has written some breathtakingly beautiful, thoughtful, outstanding passages that make you stop, re read and sigh. However, as a consequence of this, I do think that sometimes her writing is not as accessible or authentic as it could be. Overall though this is a brilliantly written novel that is quirky, challenging and interesting.

PARENTS: If you want your child to read a variety of voice and something quirky but meaningful, this is a great book to choose. I think most girls will relate to Cedar and I also think that it might be worth nudging a boy into reading this book, because although it has a female protagonist, she isn’t very girly and the issues it covers apply to both sexes. Besides, we need to encourage our sons to read books about girls!!! This book also contains a vast array of interesting words and ideas that you will enjoy discussion with your child.

Things to ask and discuss:

1) Talk about how Cedar deals with being left alone at home a lot. Do you think her Mum really knows what she gets up to? Do you think she cares?

2) Why do you think that Cedar is so kind to Oscar when all of his friends, apart from Oscar, abandoned him after his accident?

3) Putting on the ‘Volatile’ show helped many of the characters. How did it help Ricci? Cedar? Kite’s dad Rueben and Oscar? Can you think of anyone else it helped?

4) Why do you think Barnaby ran away? Why do you think he was ready to come back?

5) Barnaby describes their Dad as someone who ‘painted themselves into a picture of such admirable and epic proportions that he had no paint left to work on the small details.’ What does that mean exactly. Does it apply to anyone you know?

Come on comment, you know you wanna.

Book Reviews and Writer