To warm and break your heart, Amelia Mance
Kate de Goldi
Sanctuary is both a heart-warming and heart-breaking story of first love, family and grief.
Written in the first person, Sanctuary is narrated by the fiery and sarcastic Catriona, whose distinct voice and dry humour perfectly convey the essence of what it means to be a teenager today. Catriona’s sarcastic and often hurtful remarks, like “one crybaby in the house is enough”, reveal a deeply flawed and complex character. It’s Catriona and Kate De Goldi’s other realistic characters who are the highlight of this book. All the characters have distinct personality traits which will remind the reader of someone they know who is exactly the same and, as a result, the characters come alive on the page. I loved the way the characters felt so real and relatable, the way they could draw you into their petty dramas, but also tackled the issues of family, love and grief. It is definitely the well-developed characters that carry the story when the plot soon began to spiral into the absurd and unrealistic.
The story follows Catriona, in the years after her sister Tiggie is killed in a house fire, as she struggles with the grief and the burden of guilt she feels for surviving. This suppressed trauma soon surfaces when Catriona meets Cleo, a captive panther held at the small zoo where her new boyfriend Jem works. Catriona develops a strong feeling of empathy for the panther, that she pities for being trapped in a cage. This bond reflects how trapped Catriona feels in her own life as she struggles to move on from the trauma of her sister’s death, a burden she feels that she cannot share with anyone. This emotional trauma soon manifests itself as a compulsion to free Cleo and, whilst planning Cleo’s path to freedom, Catriona becomes entangled with Jem’s older brother Simeon. He, while appearing charming, is dangerous, manipulative, and likes to cause trouble for his own amusement.
This relationship becomes another secret for Catriona to hide and pushes her further into her compulsion so that she loses all sense of reality. The book ends with a dramatic but unrealistic showdown, when Cleo attacks her would-be rescuers, the shock of which finally allows Catriona to confront her own burden of grief and guilt. Whilst this plot definitely highlighted the struggles of dealing with grief, in my opinion it needed a reality check. Whilst I agree with De Goldi’s message that grief and stress can cloud our judgment and we must allow ourselves to heal, I simply cannot make myself believe that three teenagers could steal a panther without, firstly, getting caught, or without at least one of them realising what a truly awful idea it was.
The story jumps from conversations between Catriona and her therapist Miriam to Catriona’s own recollections of events. This effective use of flashbacks draws the reader into the story as they, just like Catriona, wonder how her life spiralled out of control. Just as the story was told in layers, focusing on Catriona’s interaction with a specific character at any one time, this compartmentalisation reflects her struggle to integrate and accept her life following the trauma of her sister’s death. It also reflects the many of secrets Catriona hid; she was a different person depending on who she was around, and the use of flashbacks really emphasises how split apart these different strands of her life were and how she could never allow them to cross over.
Overall, I found that the book had many beautiful and touching moments: it was rich with description that brought to life first love, friendship, family and grief. However, the inconsistent plot prevented the whole story from really hitting home.
Amelia Mance is 16 and goes to Wellington High.