Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Australian fiction’

The Survivors by Jane Harper

I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Australian author Jane Harper and The Survivors was no exception. I’m writing this review after sitting up until 1.30am to finish the story so have spent my Saturday feeling tired and sluggish. If my spelling is wrong and my words are in the wrong order, blame Jane Harper.

This story was set in a small coastal town in Tasmania where everyone knew everyone else. There were a few blow-ins to Evelyn Bay each summer but for the rest of the time, the locals had the place for their own and that’s how they liked it. The town had one cafe and one police officer, although when the story began the police station was on the verge of being closed and the service relocated to the next big town. When Bronte, a young artist who was staying in Evelyn Bay for the summer was found dead on the beach, everyone in town became a suspect in her murder.

The main character in this story was Keiran, a young man living in Sydney with his partner Mia and their baby Audrey. They had returned to Evelyn Bay to help Keiran’s mother pack up the family home as Keiran’s father’s dementia had worsened to the point that he had to go to a care-home.

The shock of Bronte’s death dredged up an enormous amount of anger and suspicion, much of which had been lying dormant since a terrible storm twelve years ago when Keiran’s brother and his best friend died in an accident at sea while trying to rescue teen-aged Keiran who had gotten himself stuck half way up a cliff. During that same storm a young local girl also went missing and had never been found.

Keiran’s guilt about the death of his brother and his friend hung over every moment of every day of his life. Keiran’s return to Evelyn Bay stirred up his own emotions, as well as those of his parents, who never actually said that they blamed Keiran for his brother’s death, but never said that they didn’t either. Keiran’s presence also troubled other locals who had been impacted by the two deaths and by the other girl’s disappearance.

I felt very connected with the story’s setting and loved the remote, wild, coastal Tasmanian location. I also enjoyed the various mysteries, which kept me guessing until the author revealed exactly what had happened to Bronte and to the others during the storm twelve years ago.

The only problem I had with The Survivors was that there was a cast of thousands and by the end I still couldn’t remember exactly who was who. To sum up, there was Keiran, Mia and their baby Audrey, and Keiran’s parents, Brian and Verity. Then there was Keiran and Mia’s friend’s Ash, Olivia and another bloke whose name I’ve forgotten, the local cop who had a crush on Olivia, the missing girl’s mother, plus a famous writer from the mainland.

Looming over the rest was Keiran’s brother Finn and Ash’s brother Toby (who died in the storm), Olivia’s younger sister Gabby (who went missing during the storm), another bloke whose name I’ve also forgotten but he owned the cafe and had married Toby’s widow, the cop who had a bit of a thing for Olivia (oh hang on, I said him already, I told you I was tired) and Toby’s son Liam, who was the stepson of the bloke who owned the cafe. Liam desperately resented Keiran for being the cause of the accident that killed Toby, who had been his father.

I’m already looking forward to Jane Harper’s next novel, and am guessing at where it might be set since each of her books have been set in vastly different locations.

My purchase of The Survivors by Jane Harper continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (October).

Field of Poppies by Carmel Bird

Field of Poppies is the first novel I’ve read by Australian author Carmel Bird. The author’s bio says she has written 11 novels and eight short story collections, been short-listed three times for the Miles Franklin Award and won the Patrick White Literary Award. I can’t think why I haven’t read anything by her before.

The story is narrated by Marsali Swift, who with her husband William moved to the fictional town of Muckleton in central Victoria from Melbourne in what is popularly known in Australia as a ‘tree-change’. In Muckleton, Marsali and William lived in a grand old house called Listowel and immersed themselves into the community, even though the locals know that anyone from the city are just blow-ins. To be a local people’s parents, grandparents and preferably their great-grandparents had to have lived in the area too.

First of all, Muckleton. If that place isn’t real, then it should be if only for the name alone. I kept saying Muckleton over and over again as I was reading, just because I like how the name sounds. I have a mental image of Muckleton and think it must be similar to the central Victorian town of Castlemaine, which has an enormously grand Post Office that was built on the promise of gold, gold and more gold being found in the district. Also, there is also a small town called Muckleford just a few kilometres from Castlemaine. Close enough?

Sigh. I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole. This isn’t surprising because Marsali’s narration was a succession of anecdotes which hopped from one to another. Some of Marsali’s stories were about Muckleton residents, places or events, while others were based on discussions of novels from Marsali’s book group who read Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland after a local Muckleton woman named Alice Dooley disappeared. Marsali’s version of events were occasionally interrupted by William’s Wise Words, where he chimed in to add to the story with interesting and detailed facts.

A great many of the anecdotes were related to Claude Monet’s painting The Poppy Field, or a copy of the painting which was made by Marsali’s Aunt Clarissa, who was a talented copyist artist.

One night, when Marsali and William had driven to Melbourne to attend an opera (La Traviata) at the Arts Centre, Listowel was robbed. The thieves were two local men whose vehicle hit a kangaroo while they were leaving town with the loot. One of the men died in the accident but the other was charged with theft then went back to his Real Estate business, without any loss of business by the locals. Marsali and William’s antiques and collectables were returned to them along with the copy of The Poppy Field, but how they felt about Muckleton changed.

The disappearance of Alice didn’t help, but when a Chinese gold mine started up, bringing jobs and noise and dust to the town and to Listowel in particular, since the road to the mine went past their back door, Marsali and William upped stumps and moved back to a high-rise apartment in Melbourne (in the Eureka Tower, mind you. I’ve been up to the skydeck to look at the view over Melbourne and it is sensational. The Eureka Tower was named for Australia’s own Eureka Stockade, where gold miners took on the English authorities who were taxing them out of existence).

I loved the rambling, inter-connected story-telling style of Field of Poppies. I loved Muckleton and its community. I loved the idealism of the tree-changers. I loved the opinions of the book club’s members of the books they read. I loved the coincidences and the randomness of the anecdotes. I’ll definitely be reading more of Carmel Bird’s stories in future.

Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna

Infinite Splendours is Australian author Sofie Laguna’s most recent novel (published in 2020).

I’ve previously read The Choke and The Eye of the Sheep by this author. Both told the story of a child or teenager living in very difficult family circumstances.

Infinite Splendours also began with a child as the main character, although this story took on a different direction to The Choke and The Eye of the Sheep by continuing to following Lawrence’s story until he reached middle age, showing how the traumatic events of his childhood affected the rest of his life.

Lawrence and his brother Paul grew up on a 40-acre property at the bottom of a mountain in the Southern Grampians, near Hamilton in Victoria. The small town they lived in, Hughton and their mountain, Mount Wallis were fictional, but as I read I was reminded of Mount Sturgeon which looms above the small town of Dunkeld in the Southern Grampians. I feel sure that Dunkeld and Mount Sturgeon inspired the locations for the book.

The boy’s father died in World War Two and they were raised by their mother, who sadly wasn’t the only war widow in the district. The boys always called her ‘Mother’, never ‘Mum’ or ‘Ma’. Their mother never showed Lawrence or Paul that she loved them in either her words or by physical affection, nor did they often receive praise, although she was proud of Lawrence’s academic achievements. In return, Lawrence and Paul’s behaviour was unfailingly formal, respectful and polite towards their mother.

Despite their mother’s lack of affection towards them, Lawrence and Paul were very fond of each other, and both were caring, kind children.

Lawrence and Paul were quite different to each other in their interests and abilities. Paul was a good sportsman who was mechanically-minded, while Lawrence was an academic and a naturally gifted artist. Lawrence’s school teacher recognised his talent from an early age and encouraged him to draw and paint, although his mother did not value his art.

Their mother worked hard and provided for the family but she saved all of her love for her brother Reggie, who hadn’t been seen since they were teenagers.

When their uncle wrote to say he was coming for a visit, their mother was overjoyed. Lawrence was pleased too, although Paul was not, perhaps sensing that their uncle would come between him and his brother.

Lawrence took to Uncle from the beginning and trusted and liked him. Paul, who had more street-smarts than Lawrence, did not. Uncle groomed Lawrence with attention and presents, and eventually raped him before leaving the district the next morning. Paul guessed at what had been done to Lawrence by Uncle but by then the damage was done. Lawrence suffered a nervous breakdown while Mother was none the wiser as to what had taken place.

Lawrence grew up to be a stammering wreck of a man who suffered physically and emotionally for the rest of his life. He pushed Paul away and was unable to form relationships with other adults. For a short while Lawrence worked at a dairy in nearby Hamilton but left even that after he was beaten up by his co-workers who were suspicious about the nature of his friendship with one of their young sons. By this time Paul had moved into town, leaving Lawrence alone on the property after their mother’s death.

The story then jumped ahead many years to find Lawrence a middle-aged man, still living in isolation on the family property and dependent on Paul for his food and art supplies. Lawrence had spent his years painting Mount Wallis and his immediate surroundings. He was content and nothing would have changed in his future except that a noisy young family moved into the long-vacant house next door to his, shattering his peace.

I didn’t enjoy Infinite Splendours as much as I have Sofia Launa’s other books, because the subject matter made this a particularly difficult read. I hated that Lawrence was abused as a boy and throughout the second part of this story, felt increasingly horrified and distressed wondering if Lawrence as an adult might do the same thing to another child. The question of whether predatory behaviour by adult men towards children is a result of their own childhood experiences and how much sympathy we should feel towards men in this situation loomed uncomfortably over the story, too.

I’ve written and rewritten that last sentence. Is the answer some, or none? I can’t decide. If I feel sympathy for a predator who was a victim himself does that make me a monster too? Feeling no sympathy for a victim whose learned behaviour made him a possible predator seems wrong, but so does feeling sympathy towards him.

While I felt angry that Lawrence was the victim of a predator, I also (and I acknowledge that this is completely unfair) felt annoyed that this was the story of a male victim when so many girls are victims too. I suppose the difference is that female victims of abuse generally don’t seem to perpetuate the abuse they received when they become adults, which means that this story had to be about a boy.

As per all of Sofia Laguna’s books, I loved her actual writing style and felt very connected to the Southern Grampians setting. I also enjoyed reading about Lawrence’s art and appreciated the ongoing joy he received when looking through a book depicting the work of the world’s greatest artists.

My purchase of Infinite Splendours by Sofie Laguna continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (September).

The Strays by Emily Bitto

I loved The Strays by Australian writer Emily Bitto. The story was set amongst a group of bohemian modern artists living on a grand property in Melbourne during the 1930s. I am so interested in this topic and liked the setting and character’s stories so much that this book could have been written for me especially.

The story was narrated by Lily. As the only child of straight-laced, hard-working parents Lily’s suburban home life was what most of us would call ‘normal’.

When Lily met Eva Trentham at school they became friends. Lily had never been exposed to anything like Eva’s bohemian family and their world and she became completely fascinated by the Trenthams. Eva’s father Evan was a supremely confident and successful modern artist whose work pushed the boundaries of acceptability in Melbourne society. Helena, Eva’s mother, had inherited the grand property where they threw wild parties for other modern artists in their circle. Evan and Helena’s daughters Eva, Bea and Heloise were loved but neglected.

Lily’s parents didn’t much like Evan or Helena but they were slightly star-struck by the Trenthams and encouraged Lily and Eva’s friendship, and after Lily’s father suffered a serious accident were relieved when the Trentham’s offered to have Lily live with them. What Lily’s parents didn’t realise was that a houseful of other artists had also made their home on the Trentham property. Evan and Helena hoped to create their own form of Utopia as the artists worked in a shared space with Evan and made the Trentham home their own.

As young teenagers, Lily and Eva’s friendship was extraordinarily intense. They smoked marijuana (which in the spirit of the times when the book was set was called ‘reefer’) and drank the dregs of the alcohol discarded by the adults at the Trentham’s parties, attended glamourous art exhibitions and opening nights, and listened to the adults spout about their ideals. They saw Evan’s artwork seized by the police because it was considered to be debauched, and posed semi-naked for an attractive young male artist living amongst them.

Eventually, the fun stopped when two of the Trentham’s daughters became sexually involved with one of the artists.

I think everyone has been fascinated by someone else’s family at some point in their life, and know that I was. My conservative family background meant that when I was exposed as a teenager to a friend’s hard-living household I thought it all very exciting and desperately wanted to be part of it. I didn’t see then that what I thought was glamourous and wild was actually a fairly unhappy and sordid way to live. However, looking back at her time with the Trentham’s in later life, Lily’s experience was different to mine. Her exposure to the Trentham’s formed her in that she went on to become an art historian and used her personal exposure to the Trentham era to document their times.

I was interested in the connections between the Trentham daughter’s names and that of their parents. Bea, who name didn’t echo either of her parents, was the only child who escaped the tragic consequences of neglect and debauchery and as an adult, live a functional life.

After finishing this book I’m keen to read and learn more about Sunday and John Reed and the group of artists who lived at their home at Heide in Melbourne during the 1930s. The property is now the Heide Museum of Modern Art. I’m planning a visit as soon as Melbourne comes out of these seemingly never-ending lockdowns.

Emily Bitto won The Stella Prize in 2015 with The Strays. The Stella Prize is an annual award given to a female Australian author. The prize itself was begun in 2013 to address the under-representation of female winners of the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Both prizes are named for Australia’s Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin, who wrote as Miles Franklin.

I thought The Strays was terrific.

Life, Bound by Marian Matta

Life, Bound by Australian author Marian Matta was recommended to me by Sue from Whispering Gums. You can read her review here:

https://whisperinggums.com/2021/05/06/marian-matta-life-bound-bookreview/

Life, Bound is a collection of short stories. Some are very short, not even two pages but I liked that the author recognised when her stories were finished and didn’t waffle on.

The first story, The Heart of Harveys Lane tells of a photographer who became obsessed by her home in the country, which prior to her occupancy had been empty for many years. The photographer eventually became a recluse. I’m a little bit of a hermit myself so felt as if I understood this character. I liked the story and wish that this beautifully located, private house with the ornate timber carvings was real and that I lived in it.

Climb was the story of Fergus, whose father had been replaced by a man his mother wanted him to call Daddy Ray. Fergus spent the whole of this story in a tree, climbing higher and higher as the sense of unease surrounding his family’s circumstances grew.

Danny Boy had a happier ending. Danny was very young and trying to find out who he really was and what he wanted, and by the end of this story, I think he had.

Babies-In-Their-Eyes told the story of a couple who ran away together when they were very young before creating a life together that excluded all others, even their own children. Babies-In-Their-Eyes is the story I’ve thought the most about since finishing reading this collection. I imagine there are couples who always put each other first ahead of their children but I don’t know any of them. The couple’s behaviour seemed unnatural to me although the story explained why their relationship had developed this way.

Summer of Place was a wrong time, wrong place romance and Lovely Apples provided a reminder that life goes on regardless of who dies. Three-Sixty left me with the hope that karma might actually exist.

Desire Lines will remind readers of their own Mr or Ms Wrong, and why they shouldn’t ever return to the wrong person no matter how tempted they are. In Desire Lines, the reasons for Matt being tempted by and trying to resist his own Ms Wrong were more complicated than most, since she was the mother of his children and a heavy drinker, and he was a recovering alcoholic.

Waterwise told of an unlikely friendship between an old loser and a young no-hoper. I finished this story feeling hopeful that the main characters, Jimmy and Finn would be good for each other.

I think many of us dream of doing what the main character did in Roadkill. Emily was a lonely, down-trodden, frumpy, hard-working woman who found an opportunity and took it. Good for her, I reckon.

Talk of the Town told the story of a bloke whose missus had shot through. It happens. He Turned Up was similar in that it was the story of a couple who weren’t always there for each other, although in this story it was the wife who had to be the strong one in the relationship.

The characters in this collection of stories generally made the most of the hand they were dealt, although some had better luck than others. Not all of the stories had a definite ending, but life is like that. Sometimes things just continue. Some relationships don’t work out how we want them to. Some of these stories left me wondering what happened next, which I think was the author’s intention.

My purchase of Life, Bound by Marian Matta continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (August).

The Spare Room by Helen Garner

The characters and events of The Spare Room by Australian author Helen Garner seemed so real to me that I could hardly believe this story was a novel.

I suspect this comes down to the skill of the writer. Everything I’ve read by Helen Garner has a truth about it. When she writes non-fiction her stories are straight and include the unflattering details as well as the bits that make her look good, which of course make me as a reader trust her. The voice of the narrator in The Spare Room is also named Helen, which makes this story seem even more as if the author was telling me about something that really happened.

The story began with Helen (the character) preparing her spare room for a visit from her friend Nicola, who was coming to stay with Helen in Melbourne for three weeks while undergoing a treatment for bowel cancer. When Helen collected Nicola from the airport she was horrified to realise that Nicola was much sicker than she had let on, and that the treatment she had signed up for was very likely a scam and would cost Nicola thousands of dollars while pumping her up with false hope, as well as having a detrimental effect on her already precarious health.

Helen found looking after Nicola to be absolutely gruelling, not just because Nicola required around the clock nursing after her treatments, but because of all of the grunt work; ferrying Nicola to and from her treatments, constantly washing sheets, towels and clothes and nursing Nicola through sleepless nights because she wouldn’t countenance taking actual medicine to treat her pain.

The emotional strain on Helen was even worse. Nicola was completely charming but wouldn’t admit she was dying, or even that she needed nursing, and made light of the demands she was putting on Helen and the other people who had been looking after her. Nicola’s refusal to acknowledge her situation or her needs filled Helen with rage.

The story as I’ve described it sounds bleak, but it’s not. The characters’ interactions and behaviours were often funny, such as when Helen told her little grand-daughter to go home as she didn’t want little Bessie to hear her being extremely rude to someone.

I think a novel succeeds when I feel the main character’s emotions as they do and in this case, I veered from hope to shock to rage to sorrow to joy to irritation and more along with Helen. Helen Garner also succeeded with Nicola, although she was dying, I wanted to be her as despite being infuriating, she was also charming, independent, beautiful, bohemian and loved by her friends and family.

To be able to call either of the main characters in The Spare Room your friend would be a wonderful thing.

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Tara June Winch won Australia’s Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2020 with The Yield.

I haven’t read any of the other books that were nominated in 2020 but since The Yield left me feeling almost overwhelmed with a variety of emotions, I think this book was probably a worthy winner.

The story is told alternately by three narrators over three different times who are all linked to the same place, Prosperous House, a farm on the banks of the Murrumby River at Massacre Plains.

The present story is told by August Gondiwindi, whose story began with her returning home following the death of her grandfather. August had been living overseas for the past ten years so it came as a shock to her to learn that her grandmother was soon to leave Prosperous House because a tin mining company had taken possession of the land and was about to commence mining operations.

August and her sister Jedda had lived with their grandparents at Prosperous surrounded by a swag of Aunties, cousins and members of the local indigenous community after their parents went to jail when the girls were quite young. In some ways the girls’ lives improved enormously, but not in others; they were subjected to daily racism from their fellow schoolmates and many of the town’s adults, and were sexually abused by a predator from their family’s trusted community. Later, Jedda went missing and was never found, her absence leaving a terrible gap in each of the family member’s hearts.

On August’s return to Prosperous, she learned that her grandfather had been writing a dictionary of the native words of the Wiradjuti people. As the threat of the tin mine destroying their home loomed ever closer, Ausgust continued to search for her grandfather’s missing dictionary and Aboriginal artefacts from the area which if found, would prove the Gondiwindi’s ongoing connection with the land and hopefully, stop the mine.

The narrative written by August’s grandfather held the entire story together. Albert Gondiwindi had begun the dictionary with the intention of documenting his ancestor’s words, many of which he could barely remember, before they were lost forever. Each dictionary entry started with the English word, then the word in the language of Albert’s ancestors, followed by a story prompted by each word. Albert’s stories told the story of his own life as a young man, that of his parents and his ancestors, as well as the story of his life with Elsie and the family that they created. Interestingly, Albert also documented the times he time-travelled to speak and learn from his ancestors. Magic realism usually irritates me as I feel it interrupts what I see as the ‘story’ but in this case, I believed every word Albert said.

The third story in The Yield was told in letter written in 1915 by a Lutheran man who had founded the Prosperous mission in an attempt to protect the Aboriginal people in the Ngurambang or Massacre Plains area. The Reverend Ferdinand Greenleaf had been unable to prevent Aboriginal children being stolen from their parents by white people, Aboriginal women from being raped and abused by white men or Aboriginal men being hurt or killed by white men, but he tried. Sometimes he got things wrong, too. Greenleaf expected the Aboriginal people at his mission to become Christians and to live an English/European life.

The three stories connected at the end and created a very satisfying whole.

The place names are fictional but they are also recognisable. There is a Massacre Bay in Victoria whose name is reputed to have come from the Aboriginal people of the district having been driven over the cliffs to their deaths. Australia has actual places called Poisoned Waterhole Creek, several Skeleton Creeks and other place names which describe terrible events that took place at these locations.

Although the story that takes place in The Yield could have been set anywhere in Australia, in my imagination the setting was somewhere along the Murrumbidgee River near Narranderra in NSW.

The Yield left me with a sense of shame for my country’s past and guilt at being a present day beneficiary of the actions of the white settlers who wanted Australia for their own and so took it. I felt sad for the many losses of connections that Aboriginal people have suffered as a result. This is not the first time I’ve felt these emotions when reading a novel by an Indigenous author. Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko had a similar effect on me too.

I cried when I got to the last section of the book, The Dictionary of Albert Gondiwindi. This section contains pages and pages of Indigenous words and their meanings, many of which are on the brink of extinction. Who knows how many of these words and phrases have been lost forever?

The Yield also left me feeling hopeful for a better future. None of the characters were perfect, but Albert Gondiwindi’s words have the ability to inspire others to do better, too.

The Beautiful Fall by Hugh Breakey

The Beautiful Fall is Australian author Hugh Breakey’s first novel.

Robbie is a 31 year-old man living a solitary life in Sydney. He spends his days setting up a run of dominoes that twist and turn through the apartment he rarely leaves as he counts down to a day when he knows he is about to forget everything. Literally. Every 179 days, Robbie’s memory is wiped clean of all of his memories including his own name, although luckily for him he retains the memory of how to carry out functional tasks such as the ability to read, write and look after himself.

Robbie prepares for what he calls his ‘forgetting’ by locking himself into his apartment and writing letters for his future self to provide the information he will need to continue living independently, having told himself in a previous letter that if he struggles to look after himself he will be institutionalised for his own protection.

The dominoes were left in his apartment for him by his former self without an instruction but Robbie’s plan was to set them up prior to his forgetting for his future self to knock down, in an action that he hoped would provide his future self with a link to his past.

Robbie’s plans were thrown into disarray when he accidently knocked down a large portion of the domino run less than two weeks out from his next forgetting. Feeling frantic to rebuild what he had lost, Robbie invited a young woman who had unexpectedly delivered his groceries to help him to re-set up the remaining dominos.

As Robbie and Julie got to know each other better during the twelve-day countdown to Robbie’s next forgetting, Robbie began to wonder who his former self had been trying to protect him from when he had set himself up to live like a hermit.

The story was full of twists and turns which frequently surprised me. I won’t go into these here since they would be spoilers for other readers but I will say that I enjoyed getting to know Robbie, Julie and learning both of their stories.

I hadn’t realised the story was a romance when I bought it even though the drawings of the two hands on the cover and the blurb describing Robbie’s impression of Julie as being “Young, beautiful-the only woman he can ever remember meeting,” should have given me a clue!

There were several times when I wondered why Robbie and Julie didn’t behave differently to how they did in the story but as I’ve said many times when reviewing books, if characters did things the way I think they should, then there wouldn’t be a story to tell.

Fans of the films Groundhog Day and 50 First Dates will probably enjoy this story as much as I did.

My purchase of The Beautiful Fall by Hugh Breakey continues to meet my New Year’s resolution for 2021 to buy a book by an Australian author during each month of this year (July).

Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak

Having read The Underdog by Markus Zusak, I couldn’t rest until I read Fighting Ruben Wolfe, the second book in the trilogy about Cameron Wolfe and his family.

The story continues on from where The Underdog finished, following Cameron as he and his brother Ruben as they deal with growing up in a slummy area of Sydney after their father lost his job, causing their mother to get a second job. Worse, their sister Sarah got a reputation after her boyfriend dumped her for another girl.

A man who had heard of Ruben’s prowess as a fighter engaged Ruben and Cameron to fight in illegal boxing matches attended by men who bet on the outcomes and girls who wanted to attach themselves to the winning boxers.

Ruben was a fierce fighter who showed his opponents no mercy but Cameron, whose fighting name was the Underdog, began his season by dodging his opponent’s blows, much to the anger of the crowd and his employer. As the season progressed Cameron learned to trust himself and to fight hard, but when he and Ruben were scheduled to fight each other, everything changed.

I dislike boxing and violence in general, but I loved this story as much as I did The Underdog and am looking forward to reading When Dogs Cry to finish the set.

The Underdog by Markus Zusak

The Underdog was Australian author Markus Zusak’s first novel who is best known for The Book Thief.

The story is told in the first person by fifteen-year old Cameron Wolfe. Cameron lives in an inner city slum with his hardworking parents, two older brothers and his older sister. Cameron and his brother Ruben constantly fight in their backyard and plan robberies which they never actually do, while their sister Sarah spends most of her time on the couch pashing her boyfriend. Their eldest brother is a football star who has nothing but disdain for his younger siblings and their hardworking mother despairs of them all.

During the telling of the story, Cameron works weekends with his father, a plumber, and falls in love with a girl who tells him she likes another boy, one who Cameron knows won’t treat her well. Although Cameron knows that he is himself just a grubby boy, he cares about this girl and his family. Cameron is somewhat of a loner, but he is there for his friends when they need him.

The plot was very slight, but reading this made me feel as if I spent a day in a fifteen-year old boy’s dirty, smelly shoes (and holey socks).

The Underdog was written for younger teenagers but I didn’t feel as if the story or the writing had been oversimplified or trivialised. I cared about Cameron and his family and liked them all very much. This book is part of a trilogy, with Fighting Ruben Wolfe and When Dogs Cry.

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