Old photos reveal a time slip story, Savarna Yang
26 May, 2021
In The Red Suitcase by Jill Harris, Ruth Scott has just come back to New Zealand after a terrorist bomb is set off at the Indonesian university where her parents work. More than 20 people are killed, including the lecturer who her dad had asked to talk that day. She and her dad have to stay with her nan while her mum (still in Indonesia) finishes research.
Already having trouble settling in, Ruth is terrified when she suddenly finds herself transported into the past. It’s World War Two and she’s on a plane that has been shot at and is about to crash. She later returns to the present but continues to have these time-travel like ‘episodes’ as she calls them. A man called Jonah is in all of them. She doesn’t know what to do and thinks she might be going crazy but then one day she meets Thomas Barnard, a boy who seems to be able to make some sense of what is happening.
For a while things seem more normal and Ruth reconnects with an old friend, Sally, and they join the school choir together. But Sally is also having problems at home, with her brother the leader of a tough gang that is bullying Thomas. And then Ruth once again finds herself in the past. Jonah has gone missing and Ruth sees his sisters breaking the news to his mother. Even though Ruth finds the episodes traumatic, she has grown close to Jonah and feels very upset. A couple of days later, her nan gives her an old photo album to look through and Ruth sees a picture of Jonah there. Shocked, she realises that Jonah was her nan’s uncle. She also finds out that he did die during the war.
However the episodes don’t end there. In the next one Jonah is still alive and Ruth stays in the past for almost thirteen hours. Thomas comes to her aid again and together they go through an old suitcase full of Jonah’s stuff that her nan has kept. But then they have a fight and fall out and this leads up to the climax.
When I first read The Red Suitcase, I was a bit younger and actually wasn’t a big fan. Now, coming back to it a few years later, I found it much simpler to follow and really enjoyed it. I think Harris does a great job of putting everything into perspective and covering all the different opinions. Her characters discuss their individual thoughts and ideas so you get to see things from everyone’s viewpoint and it really helps with getting to know their different personalities.
Ruth is easy to relate to as she’s really just a normal girl who’s stuck in a situation she has no control over. I’ve been in situations like that too – except they all involve my mum and housework… Anyway, getting back to the point, I think Thomas is probably less relatable than Ruth, but he’s a character who supports the plot and pulls it all together – making him pretty much invaluable to the story.
Thought-provoking and different, this is tale about the trickiness of time and war and the questions surrounding both. It’s not the type of book I usually read, but I definitely still enjoyed it. I’d recommend for readers 11 and up.
- Savarna Yang is 12 and lives near Dunedin.