Are You There, Buddha?


Publication Date: 30 Jun. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9780734420305

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    Bridget ’Bee’ Ballentine is 12 and starting her first year of high school in the beach suburb Crescent Bay.

    Still reeling from the departure of her mother for an ashram in India, Bee talks to Buddha and begs for her first period not to arrive. She’s not ready to become a woman yet, whatever that means.

    Although Bee’s yet to find her tribe at school, her best friend forever is surfer Leon McKay, also known as the hottest boy in Year Eight. As long as Leon has her back, Bee can survive the mean girls, her meddling step-mum, Kath, and her swimming nemesis, The Piranha.

    Over one blistering summer, set against the backdrop of bushfires, smoke haze and water restrictions, Bee will grow up, show up, and make a name for herself.

    Information

    Book Type: Junior High
    Age Group: 12 years +
    Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 5/5
    Literary Rating: 5/5

    Review

    Bee has found an uncomfortable balance with her father’s partner Kath and their son Max. Although Kath tries to support her, the one person Bee actually wants support from is missing from her life.

    Bee’s mum was in a diving accident and got decompression sickness, after which she decided to convert to Buddhism and move to India to join an ashram. Bee’s trying to understand this decision by talking to Buddha, who she has decided is a ‘she’. Buddha has become a replacement mother figure to her—someone she can ask to stop her getting her periods, because she’s just not ready to be a woman yet.

    It’s an unbelievably hot summer. Out of the pool, bushfires are making everyone nervous. But in the pool, Bee has her own concerns: making her breaststroke better than ever so she can beat her rival Lauren—The Piranha—for a place on the medley relay team.

    When her first period arrives, she finds support in a surprising place: popular girl Sarah, who has a thing for Bee’s friend Leon. But Sarah is shallow, and her friendship doesn’t last long. She’s always trying to get Bee to do the things she does, like post on social media and wear makeup—things Bee doesn’t care about. Meanwhile, Leon keeps trying to ask Bee out even though she’s not interested in a relationship. Why does everything keep changing?

    After trialing a free session at the newly opened meditation centre in town, Bee realises it’s not for her. Luckily, she does find something that’s more her style: friendship with the meditation centre owner’s bookish, independent daughter Claire.

    As swim training heats up, Bee notices that The Piranha’s mum is horrible to her and starts to suspect that she may be abusive. Things get worse when Bee is selected for the relay team. She’s not sure what to do, so she goes to her coach, who has noticed the same thing. Meanwhile, Bee’s mum promises to fly to Australia to watch her compete. However, Bee’s trying not to get her hopes up, in case this is just another empty promise.

    When the trip inevitably gets cancelled, Bee is devastated but doesn’t let it get in the way of winning the competition. And though initially she feels betrayed when her dad proposes to Kath, she decides to stop resisting change and be Kath’s maid of honour. Bee and Leon reconcile and agree to be just friends. When she stops struggling against the inevitable changes in her life—puberty, the reformation of her family, the changing nature of her friendships—Bee is able to find some inner peace for the first time.

    Bee starts as someone who is unable to reach out to her father or Kath for help and is holding on to Buddha as a stand-in for her absent mother. Over the course of the novel she learns that desperately avoiding the natural changes to her body and to her relationships with the people around her is only causing her inner turmoil. At the end of the novel she achieves peace without meditation by accepting change and doing right by others.

    Engaging with complex ideas of womanhood and coming of age through her conception of Buddhism, Bee forges her own identity and starts making her own way in the world.

    Themes

    coming-of-age, womanhood, mothers and daughters, broken families, abuse, friendship, social media, swimming, sports, competition

    Content Notes

    1. The story centres around Bee’s transition to womanhood, therefore there is discussion of menstruation, pads/tampons etc. throughout, as well as discussion of pubic hair and stretch marks. This is all very sensitively handled, it is just part of her growing up. 2. Side characters kiss (p. 31-32, 149, 197). Mentions of romance—Leon has a crush on Bee and keeps asking her out. Bee is uninterested and they don’t get together. At one point Bee is thinking about how unhygienic kissing seems, and wonders if it would be okay to kiss a girl because they seem cleaner than boys. She decides to kiss no-one because that’s cleanest. 3. Language: bloody x 1. 4. The Piranha’s mum is abusive—hits Laura (p. 61). Laura has marks on her (p. 190). Coach contacts CPS and Laura goes to live with her grandparents. 5. Bee tries meditation at the meditation centre (p. 74) but can’t concentrate. She sees herself as a Buddhist and prays to Buddha for assistance, and often thinks about quotes from Buddha and tries to use mantras etc. However, it’s clear she doesn’t really understand what Buddhism is, but is looking for direction in her life. She eventually comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t need Buddha to be happy.

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