Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis
|Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Gorgeous story of life in the Australian outback, dealing with teen pregnancy, racism, loss of a child, and coming-of-age. Accessible, raw and honest, Bookbag loved this one.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: March 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
Danny lives on a cattle station in the Australian outback. His brother Jonny died in an horrific accident last year and the subject is absolutely taboo. Nobody even mentions his name. But Danny keeps Jonny's room just as it was when he died, and he touches his picture every day.
But grief isn't the Dawson family's only worry. Danny's fourteen-year-old sister Sissy is pregnant and she won't tell anybody who the father is. There's a terrible drought - the rains won't come and the cattle are suffering. The station's future could be in doubt. All hands are needed for the upcoming annual muster and with Sissy pregnant, they take on a housegirl to do some housework. The Pommie is useless - a vegetarian on a cattle station, for heavens sakes! - and it's Danny who seems to be saddled with her, when all he wants to do is join the fellas at the muster and prove to his father that he can fill Jonny's shoes...
I thought Danny's voice was one of the freshest and most original I've read in a while. At times he's blunt, at times he's secretive, but he's always honest. Living such an isolated life on a cattle station in the outback, he is at times ignorant and naive. On the other hand, he has understanding and experience that will be simply jaw-dropping to the average town-dwelling British child. He can drive. He can save the life of an orphaned calf. He can discipline an errant camel.
The emotional landscape is recognisable to everyone, though. Danny is having trouble coming to terms with the death of his brother and also with the way his sister's pregnancy is taking her away too, into an adult world of motherhood. He's in a rush to grow up and catch up, and he resents the brakes his parents put on the process. And when things don't go his way, he gets angry and impetuous.
The Pommie, Liz, is an agent for change in Danny's life. We see her only from Danny's viewpoint, which is largely oblivious to the influence she's having and contemptuous of her city ways, but her outsider's perspective allows him to test his thoughts and opinions and, eventually, helps him to move on from his grief.
The style is spare and economical, almost rough, and it perfectly suits the backdrop of the imposing and harsh environment of the Australian desert and its influence on the people who live there. I thought it told a wonderful and evocative story of a year of the land, of a family in grief, and also of a young boy's coming of age.
Oh, and Everybody Jam? It's apricot jam because everybody likes it - nothing to do with Scatman John, just in case you were wondering!
My thanks to the good people at Andersen for sending the book.
If Everybody Jam makes them want to read more books set in Australia, we recommend Now by Morris Gleitzman, the concluding part of this lovely and moving trilogy about the Holocaust, where Zelda struggles to live up to the namesake who died at the hands of the Nazis, and Fighting Ruben Wolfe by Markus Zusak, a gritty novella about tough lives in tough neighbourhoods at tough economic times.
You can read more book reviews or buy Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis at Amazon.com.
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Maureen Steyn said:
Jill Murphy's review of this book is excellent - I don't think anyone could have done a better job. She has described this gutsy, absorbing story perfectly - a worthy plaudit for Ali's first published novel.