Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler

hey brother.jpgTitle: Hey Brother

Author: Jarrah Dundler

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A genuine and compellingly portrayed family drama of a tough kid from rural Australia.

Before leaving for war in Afghanistan, Shaun Black gives his little brother Trysten a mission of his own. Keep out of trouble.

Trysten tries, but with Mum hitting the bottle harder than ever and his dad not helping, Trysten responds the only way he knows how, with his fists – getting into a fight at school and lining up for another one with his uncle who’s come to stay.

When the family receives news that Shaun will be home for Christmas, Trysten is sure that good times are coming. But when Shaun returns, Trysten soon realises he has a whole new mission – to keep Shaun out of trouble.

Hey Brother tells the story of a tough kid from the bush whose world comes crashing down on his shoulders. But with his own blend of fury, resilience and deadpan humour, Trysten proves to be up for every challenge.

~*~

Hey Brother is set in the early 2000s, just after 9/11. Trysten Black’s brother, Shaun, has gone over to fight against the Taliban with the Australian and US armies, leaving Shaun at home to take care of their mother, whose troubles with alcohol scare, and worry them both, but also tells him to keep out of trouble – easy, right? Trysten reckons it will be – until a new girl – Jessica – starts in his year. Together with best friend Ricky, who has a crush on the girl who befriends Jessica, Jade, As the months go on, the boys get to know Jessica and Jade, and even begin to hang out together at school. On top of this, Trysten must look out for his Mum, and keep an eye on his uncle, who has come to stay while Shaun is away.

As he tries to care for his mother, and make sure he gets along with his uncle, Trevor, Trysten’s promise to stay out of trouble seems to be forgotten between this and building his relationship with Jessica – and when Shaun returns home, Trysten’s family will be tested – his father, who has lived away from the home for months, seems to have a change of heart, and his mother is improving. But there’s something about Shaun that Trysten can’t quite put his finger on, and a party, and the subsequent events during the summer holidays will bring to a head everything that has been building with Shaun and reveal secrets about the family that Trysten never knew about or saw coming, and revelations about the world and their lives show things will never be the same.

Hey Brother is a coming of age story, set in the early years of the twenty-first century, when terrorism entered our world, and how we all reacted to it – how some of our worlds didn’t change, how as a teenager, Trysten’s mind was often on school, Jessica, his friends and his family, rather than a faraway attack and war. He is the go-between messenger for his parents, and it looks at how war can affect soldiers – at the way Shaun comes home and tells a story one way, but the reality is quite different and the PTSD that he brings back with him – something Uncle Trevor notices and does his best to help with. As mental illness and alcohol abuse are explored through Trysten’s eyes, as a child narrator he comes across as mature at times, and immature at others, perhaps hinting at how fast he is having to grow up and adapt to this new, uncharted territory his family finds themselves in, coupled with hormones and the influences of friends, his and his brother’s, as well as events that trigger the climax, and how Trysten finds himself dealing with the fallout.

The genre of this book is hard to pin down – I’ve marked it as literary fiction but is it young adult, adult or does it cross those two distinctions? Possibly, but I think that will depend on the individual. It was an interesting take on a modern war and its fallout, and a modern family dealing with personal issues and secrets that come out towards the end. It is raw and emotional and shows that we are all just human and anything can affect us in different ways at any time, and nobody is immune to the fragility of the mind and the way it processes things.

In some ways I liked this book and what it did, though it is not one I plan to revisit too quickly like others. It is one that needs time and processing between reads to maintain the impact it can have. It does reveal something about Australia and our culture, attitudes to war and how we deal with things like mental health, and these are important conversations to have, and I hope Jarrah Dundler’s work is one that helps start these discussions amongst people.

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My Girragundji by Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior

my girragundjiTitle: My Girragundji – 20th Anniversary Edition
Author: Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 23rd May 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 96
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: The 20th anniversary edition of the award-winning, much loved story that tells how a little tree frog helps a boy find the courage to face his fears.
‘I wake with a start. The doorknob turns. It’s him. The Hairyman.’

There’s a bad spirit in our house. He’s as ugly as ugly gets and he stinks. You touch this kind of Hairyman and you lose your voice, or choke to death.

It’s hard to sleep when a hairy wrinkly old hand might grab you in the night. And in the day you’ve got to watch yourself. It can be rough. Words come yelling at you that hurt.

Alive with humour, My Girragundji is the vivid story of a boy growing up between two worlds. With the little green tree frog as a friend, the bullies at school don’t seem so big anymore. And Girragundji gives him the courage to face his fears.

Boori Monty Pryor was the Australian Children’s Laureate from 2012-13.

Author bio:
Meme McDonald was a graduate of Victoria College of the Arts Drama School. She began her career as a theatre and festival director, specialising in the creation of large-scale outdoor performance events. Since then she worked as a writer, photographer and on various film projects. Meme McDonald’s previous books – five of which have been written in collaboration with Boori Monty Pryor – have won six major literary awards.

Boori Monty Pryor was born in North Queensland. His father is from the Birri-gubba of the Bowen region and his mother from Yarrabah, a descendant of the Kunggandji and Kukuimudji. Boori is a multi-talented performer who has worked in film, television, modelling, sport, music and theatre-in-education. Boori has written several award-winning children’s books with Meme McDonald and was Australia’s inaugural Children’s Laureate (with Alison Lester) in 2012 and 2013.
~*~

AWW-2018-badge-roseThere’s something unique about Australian stories – wherever they come from – that show a connection to the land and history that feels different to other literature. In My Girragundji, first published twenty years ago, Meme McDonald and Boori Monty Prior have taken family stories and culture and woven them into a story that can be enjoyed by all.

In My Girragundji, young boy straddles two worlds: his Indigenous world and the world of wider Australia, where everyone is invited to participate but where the protagonist of this short, charming story is still isolated, and where difference can mean more than he thought it could. It is a world where the reader is introduced to Aboriginal words that are translated within the text, and that flow, and sing, sharing knowledge with all in an accessible and enjoyable way. The protagonist refers to migaloo, mozzies, and Aboriginal legends of a Hairyman, a figure who illustrates the fears his family feels, and perhaps shows a sense of isolation that they might feel from the migaloo – their word for the white people they live with and go to school with.

At school, the protagonist is caught between two worlds and tries to fit into both, and soon finds solace in a small friend – a girragundji – a frog. And he draws strength from this frog as he navigates his world and where he fits in.

I read this one quite quickly – and enjoyed the black and white photos and images that accompanied the text, giving it life and vitality next t brief, yet descriptive and emotive text, that communicated a story of strength, friendship, family and coming of age in a simple, accessible and charming way to the target audience, but also one that I hope will be enjoyed by all. Aimed at years four and five, this would be a great book to read and begin various conversations about our culture in Australia and introduce new readers to an Indigenous author, and Meme, who was a great advocate for reconciliation and worked together with Indigenous communities like Boori’s to help connect people and bring about reconciliation.

I enjoyed this read, and hope others do as well.

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Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan, Illustrated by Craig Smith

grandpa me poetry.jpgTitle: Grandpa, Me and Poetry

Author: Sally Morgan, illustrated by Craig Smith

Genre: Children’s Fiction

Publisher: Omnibus/Scholastic

Published: 1st May, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 52

Price: $9.99

Synopsis: Melly likes poems that rhyme with words like frog, bog, doggedy-dog.

And when the school holds a poetry competition, Melly has her eye on the prize, with a little bit of inspiration from Grandpa.

~*~

One of Melly Wilson’s favourite things is poetry, and her favourite person is her grandfather. While Melly is at school, Grandpa is in hospital, and she is learning about poetry – which is something that connects her with Grandpa. Together, they come up with rhymes, and poems that don’t rhyme for school. When a poetry competition is announced, Melly is excited: she loves words that rhyme and wants to write a poem that will stun her teacher and win the competition, and perhaps she will – with some inspiration from Grandpa.

I was sent this book by Scholastic as part of a quiz writing program and decided to also review it here.

AWW-2018-badge-roseGrandpa, Me and Poetry is about Melly, who enjoys poetry – but only if it has sounds, beats and repeats – and if it rhymes. She doesn’t like poems that don’t rhyme, but her teacher does. Melly is a cute character, and the book is told from her perspective, as she worries about her Grandpa, who is in hospital, her Mum and writing the perfect poem to please her teacher and win a prize at Family Day at school. But will Melly have her family there?

It is a story about a family, told from the perspective of the daughter and her love of poetry, and how she uses it to express herself at an uncertain time, with a nice resolution at the end of the story that brings a smile to the face of readers.

As well as being cute, it was also funny. Melly’s rhymes were a highlight and will delight readers as they read it and enjoy the sense of rhyming and rhythm that Melly enjoys too. From her cheeky rhymes in class, to her poem that doesn’t rhyme, and her final poem about her Grandpa, Melly’s poetic journey is funny, cute, and enjoyable. and has a great main character, who is full of life but also, shows that everyone has worries and obstacles that they need to overcome.

A great book for children starting to read chapter books and novels, or for reluctant readers, and also a great book to learn to read with, this is a highly enjoyable book for all ages from one of Australia’s fabulous Indigenous authors.

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Book Bingo Five – A foreign translated novel, a novel with a yellow cover, a novel by an Australian man, a funny book, a memoir and a non-fiction book.

book bingo 2018.jpgIn my fifth Book Bingo post for the year, I can report that I have a BINGO! The final row going down, row five, is complete, with three out of the five squares being filled with Australian Women Writers. The text version of the row is below:

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Row #5 (Down) – BINGO

 A Foreign Translated Novel: Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner (translated by Niall Seller

A book with themes of culture: The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

A book with a mystery: Olmec Obituary by LJM Owen – AWW2018

A book with a number in the title: Four Respectable Ladies Seek Part-Time Husband by Barbara Toner – AWW2018

A book written by someone over sixty: Eventual Poppy Day by Libby Hathorn – AWW2018

babylon berlinOf these, the latest addition is a foreign translated novel – Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutschner, translated by Niall Seller and sent to me by Allen and Unwin to review. It is the first in a crime series by a German author, set during the dying years of the Weimar Republic in the inter-war period, when the world is inching towards the Great Depression. It centres around Detective Gereon Rath, and the crimes he solves, and the things that he overlooks, the various underworld activities that are accepted in dark corners, but not always out in the open. I did like the idea behind this, and the historical backdrop, however, as stated in my review, I felt some things dragged on a bit, making these sections a tad slow but the fast-paced sections were what really drove the novel and gave it the oomph that it needed.

tin manI have five other squares to include – I am aiming to fill them with whatever works, and some will be Australian Women Writers, others won’t, it simply depends on where the books fit. First, is a novel with a yellow cover – Tin Man by Sarah Winman. It is the story of two gay men, whose first encounter has them ripped apart but then drawn back together as friends, with Annie, the wife of Ellis, one of the main characters. It is a touching story of the various ways we express our love, and to whom we choose to express that love. With a touch of realism about it, it touches on fears as well as love.

Skin-in-the-Game_cover-for-publicity-600x913My memoir square has been filled by Skin in the Game: The Pleasure and Pain of Telling True Stories by Sonia Voumard. In a series of essays, Sonia tells her story about being a journalist, and the daughter of a World War Two refugee – her mother, with humour and frankness, and an honesty that shines a light on some of the challenges faced by journalists behind the scenes of stories, interviews and publications, and how they try to overcome these under increasing pressure of a 24 hour news cycle, where the demand for facts and results at all times seems to be a struggle to keep up with. It is insightful and gives a new appreciation for what journalists do and at times go through for me.

grandpa me poetryThe book taking up the square of a funny novel has not been published yet, so the longer review will be linked here when it goes live. Grandpa, Me and Poetry by Sally Morgan, and published by Scholastic. It is the story of Melly, who loves poetry and her Grandpa. When given the chance to explore her two loves, she jumps at it, and through a series of amusing scenes with funny rhymes, she finds a way to write a wonderful poem for Family Day.

the opal dragonflyThe novel by Australian Man square was filled by new release, The Opal Dragonfly by Julian Leatherdale, about Isobel Macleod, youngest of seven and her father’s favourite, and the opal dragonfly brooch left to her by her mother that sees hard times befall the family through a series of tragedies over the years that they can never recover from. It is about family loyalty, betrayal and finding oneself in the harshest of circumstances, and finding a new life for yourself

spinning topsSpinning Tops and Gum Drops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood fills the non-fiction square. Using images and statements, and other stories from the time, Edwin Barnard has created a window into a world where the realities of childhood were vastly different to those for today’s children. It tells of a time when threats from illness and bushrangers were ever present, where children had to work as well as go to school, and in some cases, instead of going to school. It is interesting and gives a window into colonial life beyond text on a page.  

Look out for my next Book Bingo in a few weeks time!

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