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The Road to Gundagai is an exceptionally well-realised historical novel for young people. The third installment in the Waltz for Matilda series, the book is set in Victoria and New South Wales during the Great Depression and follows the adventures of a travelling circus and a murder mystery. With engaging detail, French brings to life the experiences of a remarkable range of characters as they face the challenges of the period — the social and economic consequences of the Depression and, notably, the legal status and social position of children.
The product of deep research, which she shares with her reader, the work transcends simple fiction because its historical sensibility is so pronounced and engaging. The past is not simply a backdrop. History is used by French to drive the book’s narrative arc. A work that both entertains and informs — it is a fine achievement.