If you are a reader who refuses to read YA novels, then don’t let the moniker put you off with this one. This book has a young character named Nate in it, who soon makes you forget all about genre and labels. The novel opens with a prologue. The main character Nate is eleven years old. He is out in the bush with his father Dec and his friends. The little group has a gun and they are planning to shoot, anything that they can. When they stumble across a group of goats. Dec gives the gun to Nate and tells him to shoot. But Nate doesn’t want to. This opening prologue is a metaphor for Nate and his life. He does not want to end up like his father and his friends. His refusing to shoot the goat, is his refusing to follow in the footsteps of his father, but as you will find out, life has stacked the deck against him.
Nate, now sixteen, lives in a town called Bairstal. There are no jobs, no entertainment, nothing to do apart from go to the youth centre which is on the verge of being shut down. Nate has already applied for hundreds of jobs but most of them do not even take the time to send a rejection letter back. Nate is highly intelligent, intelligent enough to see that his future looks bleak. Nate lives in a tiny apartment with his father Dec, whose job requirements are drinking at the pub and playing the pokies all day and then come home and argue with his stepmother all night. Nate has two stepbrothers, twins, Jake, three years old and turning into Dec before Nate’s eyes, and Otis, who may be mentally slow. Nate’s father has never actually hit him, but the hint of physical domestic abuse shrouds the narrative. I found myself waiting for the page where it happens, and who Dec would hit first. Nate doesn’t sleep in his bedroom because his father uses it to grow his hydroponic cannabis, for medicinal purposes of course.
Nate hangs out everyday with his best friend Merrick, who pretends to be stupid or slow, but is in fact a straight A student. It doesn’t pay to be too intelligent in Bairstal, it tends to get you beaten up. Nate’s English teacher, Mr Reid is quite aware of Nate’s intelligence and works away at him furtively trying to help him reach his potential. In fact, the relationship between teacher and student is quite a highlight of the book, their conversations and arguments extremely entertaining. The note that Nate leaves Mr Reid when he is sent from the room for sneezing gives us an impression of just how intelligent Nate is. But his raw intelligence needs to be tempered with education and this is what Mr Reid is attempting to achieve. Nate must escape this life. He must escape or be trapped in the same prison his father inhabits. His father, just like Sisyphus and his boulder, goes to the pub every day, sinks all his money into the pokies or horses trying to win big, just to lose it all and return the next day to the same task. This is the future that Nate must escape. The question is how to do it. This is a great book. 4.5 Stars!
Kudos go to Nate and another student discussing the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet from Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. If you get the chance, read some of his poems. Especially “Suicide in the Trenches” - https://www.collinsbookblog.com/post/siegfried-sassoon
Vikkie Wakefield was born in Adelaide.
After high school, Vikki worked in banking, journalism, communications and graphic design. In 2009 she enrolled in TAFE's Advanced Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing) and found her voice. Her articles have been published in newspapers and magazines and she is an award-winning short story writer. Two of Vikki's short film scripts are currently in production.