Halfling, Rebecca Lloyd’s first novel for children, may have its origins in an earlier award-winning short story, but the transition to a longer format has successfully resulted in a moving and original work for young readers.
Danny is an overwhelmed eleven-year-old, worn down by the burden of acting as carer to his father, who is wheelchair-bound after an earlier accident that claimed the life of Danny’s mother. Forced to shoulder the household responsibility and unable to find a space in which to grieve for his mother, Danny is as torn a character as the mysterious halfling woman who lives in the bathtub of a neighbour’s house.
The novel is at its strongest when exploring the relationship between Danny and his dad. In their interactions, Lloyd has created a touching examination of ruptured family dynamics and she successfully avoids clogging her text with sentimentality and pathos. Cotton Street, home to Danny and his eccentric, but very believable, neighbours, is as strongly drawn a character as any of the human protagonists.
Lloyd sketches a charming portrait of a tightly knit community that is both a comfort and a challenge to Danny. In such a convincing realistic setting, the novel’s fantastical elements jar somewhat and, thematically, they lead to some distressing child/adult interactions. At these times, the story falters over an awkward and uneasy suspension of belief. Ultimately, the book’s success lies in the convincing and ordinary details of Danny’s life, within which the magical elements struggle to find a home.