Book reviews

Posts tagged ‘Markus Zusak’

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.

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Bridge of Clay is by Australian author Markus Zusak, who also wrote The Book Thief and The Messenger.

It took me a while to connect with the story in Bridge of Clay but once I did, I was unable to put this book down. Even now, a week after finishing the book, I haven’t quite let go of the story’s characters.

The story of the Dunbar family is told Matthew Dunbar who is the eldest of five boys living in a ramshackle house next to a racecourse in Sydney. Matthew tells the story of the Dunbars through the eyes of his brother Clay, who knows all of the family’s stories and secrets. It includes the story of their parents, Penelope, sometimes called the Mistake-Maker or the Broken-Nosed Bride and of his father Michael, otherwise known as the Murderer. It is also Matthew’s own story of looking after his brothers, Henry the scammer, Rory the ferocious, Tommy the baby and of course Clay, who binds the family together when things went terribly wrong from the family.

Matthew tells his family’s stories in great detail, with descriptions that initially seemed corny to me. His voice is occasionally abrupt and the story is told in bits and pieces, which jump around in time and place. I think my initial dislike of Matthew’s voice was what took me so long to connect with the story, however once I figured out that Penelope taught all over her children to love Homer’s works, Matthew’s narration style made sense. It also explained why all of the family’s animals were named after Homer’s characters, including Achilles the mule who had figured out how to get into the kitchen from the backyard.

The stories eventually link together to make a complete family saga. I formed enough of a connection with the characters and their lives to need tissues as I sniffled through their sorrows and I also laughed aloud a couple of times too, never a good look on a crowded train… I also loved how Australian Bridge of Clay is and that the characters share a love of Australian stories and legends, including that of Phar Lap.

I plan to re-read Bridge of Clay eventually to pick up on anything I missed the first time.

The Messenger by Markus Zusak


Markus Zusak, who wrote The Messenger is probably best known for having wrote The Book Thief. I haven’t read The Book Thief, but I saw the movie and howled buckets. So I was expecting great things from The Messenger, which won the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award and the 2003 NSW Premier’s Literary Award Ethel Turner Prize in Australia (Young Adult category).

The Messenger delivered.

The Messenger‘s main character is Ed Kennedy, a twenty year old taxi driver. Ed grew up and continues to live in a low socio-economic area of a city. When he isn’t working, Ed bums around with his friends, mostly playing a card game called Annoyance. Ed is in love with Audrey, who has a series of boyfriends who come and go. Ed has a dog called The Doorman and a mother whose blood pressure seems to rise every time she sees him.

Things change for Ed when he prevents a bank robber from getting away and he becomes a hero. After this, Ed receives a card in the mail, the Ace of Diamonds, with three addresses on it. Ed visits each of the homes, and realises that he needs to do something for each of these families to make the world a better place.

When Ed completes these tasks, he is sent other aces with cryptic clues to solve. Again, each of the clues lead him to a task. The tasks vary enormously, from assisting a woman who is regularly being raped by her husband, to befriending a lonely old woman.

Ed is a likeable character, funny and honestly telling his story as he sees it. The words are perfect. Ed’s voice is ocker, with a broad Australian accent that is familiar and endearing to me, even though dialects in stories usually annoy me to the point of not finishing a book. His voice is often funny, although at other times the emotion made me feel exactly as the author intended, sad, angry, flattened, hopeful or hopeless.

For example; “I’m just another stupid human.”

“Have you ever noticed that idiots have a lot of friends? It’s just an observation.”

“I was always reading books when I should have been doing math and the rest of it.”

The Messenger reminded me a little of Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. Maybe this might mean that The Messenger is predictable for some readers, but for me, I found the story and the message to be inspiring.

Tag Cloud