The December Boys by New Zealand author Michael Noonan was made into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, of Harry Potter fame.
The story is narrated by a boy called Choker, who along with his mates Maps, Spark, Fido and Misty, are collectively known as ‘the December boys’ because they were all left at an outback Catholic Orphanage during the same December as babies.
The story is set in the 1930s, in the aftermath of the Depression. Choker and his mates have been shouted a summer at the beach by a wealthy benefactor of the orphanage. On holidays at Captain’s Folly, an isolated beach settlement, they experience freedom in a way they never have before, roaming around and exploring the area, all the while getting to know the people who live permanently in the area.
Most of the people living in shacks, caves or sleeping rough at Captain’s Folly have been there since the Depression, and are mostly hermits and people who are unable to cope in mainstream society, but the boys are most interested in and impressed by a beautiful young woman, Teresa, who cartwheels into their hearts on their first day at the beach. The boys are even more impressed when they meet Teresa’s husband, Fearless Foley, who was once a trick motorbike rider.
When Choker overhears Fearless telling another settlement dweller that he would like to adopt one of the boys, the boy’s emotions run wild. Each boy is desperate to stay with Fearless and Teresa, to the point where they would throw each other under a bus to be the lucky one.
This is a slow story, with a lot of detailed descriptions. The story is sometimes sad, but there is a lot of fun and a strong sense of Australian humour. Australian colloquialisms are frequently used in the character’s conversations, to the point where the language could be a deterrent for non-Australian readers.
The boys’ first look at the Pacific Ocean, or according to another character, the ‘Specific,’ is a gorgeous start to the story. The boys are overwhelmed by the immensity of the ocean, the colour and the movement of the waves. The description of their first experience of entering the water is much the same, joyful and gives you the feeling of being there with them, egging each other on, experiencing the feel of the water, the strength of the waves and the taste of salt.
While I haven’t seen the movie, I believe there are a number of important differences between the book and the film. For example, the book is set during the 1930s but the movie uses the 1960s, the book tells the story of five boys while there are only four in the movie, and there are no girls or love interests for the boys in the book but there are in the movie (*sarcastic eye roll*. I don’t know why every movie needs to have a romance).
I enjoyed The December Boys, but would be hesitant to recommend it to non-Australian readers. I would be interested to learn what other people thought of this book, or the movie if anyone has seen it. Having read a blurb about the movie, I think it is a shame that the story has been altered so much, but perhaps it would be better to think about the book and the movie as two separate stories.