A friend of mine once told me that the very best stories being told nowadays are from the Young Adult (YA) genre. I remember one such book specifically: Code Name Verity, a young adult historical fiction novel by Elizabeth Wein. It’s an amazing book, one for every adult, no matter their age. Please read it. And while I have you, please read this novella, too. Petrichor is written by Australian author Melanie Rees. At around 160 pages long, you’ll finish it in a coupe of sittings; but it will stay with you much longer. This deceptively simple novella has power, emotion, adventure, and a third-person point of view narrator that could be anyone on this planet.
We’ve all experienced loss, but perhaps not in same way Clayton and his family have. The setting is a rural town of Paddle Creek Station in Australia. It’s almost dystopian in that a drought that has seemingly gone on forever has threatened the livelihood of the families living there. Clayton’s father is a farmer struggling to make ends meet because of the lack of rain. Not only that, but not so long ago, his son and Clayton’s older brother Davo died in tragic but mysterious circumstances. Clayton’s mother and father refuse to talk about Davo, and his father point blank forbids Clayton to go anywhere near the house where Davo lived.
Petrichor, which is a word that means the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of dry, warm weather, is a remarkable novella, in that it very quickly goes from a period of mourning and buried memories to the world of the fantastical. Clayton is visited by Waringa, a spirit that takes the form of a dead fox. Waringa tells Clayton that only he has the power to defeat the Red King and bring the rains back to Paddle Creek. Aided only by his brother’s dog Rusty, Clayton sets off on an adventure that is both excited and deeply profound. He must free the rain spirits while doing battle with the evil that has taken over the countyside. Waringa isn’t always there to help him, so oftentimes Clayton and Rusty are on their own.
Behind all this, though, is an exploration of grief and the struggle to understand how and why Davo died. The answer to these questions are both disturbing and understandable, and it may trigger a few readers. But I urge you to read through to the end. Clayton’s father initially appears unfeeling and indifferent toward his surviving son. His mother tries to provide balance between the two men in the house, but she herself harbours deep grief, too. In the meantime, unknown to his parents, Clayton is putting himself in mortal danger.
Petrichor packs an absolute wallop of emotion in its short length. And it’s not short on set-pieces either. It’s an exciting and though-provoking novella that will resonate with anyone who reads it. Like I said at the beginning of this review, the very best stories are told in the YA genre. Petrichor by Melanie Rees is another example of this. It’s gorgeously written, vivid in its imagery, and human at its heart.