Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

This is an amazing book and is a must read. If you haven’t heard about it, I predict you will because I’m fairly confident this will be winning prizes in 2019. There I’ve said it, but why?

The book is written from the point of view of a thirteen-year-old boy, Eli growing up in Brisbane whose best friend Slim is his babysitter who just happens to be a notorious ex-crim, his stepfather is a drug dealer, his mother ends up in jail and his older brother, August is mute. If that doesn’t get you going, then throw in the boy’s philosophical yearning to know if a man can ever be good as he takes a long hard look at the role models of adult men around him.

The writing is sublime.

Still night air and two boys smoking on a gutter. Stars up there. A cane toad down here has been flattened by a car tyre on the bitumen road a metre from my right foot. Its pink tongue has exploded from its mouth so it looks like the toad was flattened halfway through eating a raspberry lolly snake.

‘Sucks, doesn’t it?’ Darren says.
‘What?’
‘Growing up thinking you were with the good guys, when all along you were running with the bad guys.’

The cover is incredible.

I’ll almost bet that you’ll turn back if you walk past a bookshop with this cover in the window, just to take a look.

The splat of pink and orange with a small bird sitting on a statement, ‘your end is a dead blue wren’ is intriguing. That statement will mean a lot and by the time you finish the book you will understand why.

The descriptions are exquisite.

Slim coughs, chokes up brown tobacco spit that he missiles out the driver’s window to our sun-baked and potholed bitumen street running past fourteen low-set sprawling fibro houses, ours and everybody else’s in shades of cream, aquamarine and sky blue. Sandakan Street, Darra, my little suburb of Polish and Vietnamese refugees and the Bad Old Days refugees like Mum and August and me, exiled here for the past eight years, hiding out from the rest of the world, marooned survivors of the great ship hauling Australia’s lower- class shitheap, separated from America and Europe and Jane Seymour by oceans and darn pretty Great Barrier Reef and another 7000 kilometres of Queensland coastline and then an overpass taking cars to Brisbane city, and separated a bit more still by the nearby Queensland Cement and Lime Company factory that blows cement powder across Darra on windy days and covers our rambling home’s sky-blue fibro walls with dust…

The plot and characters are well-developed.

From the first page you’ll be put into the rollercoaster’s front seat which barely lets up until close to the end when you’ll wonder why you have palpitations in your chest. At times, you’re unsure whether you should laugh or cry or merely gasp at the almost farcical nature of the boy’s life, where you wonder if he can survive another distressing obstacle. Eli makes us see a different side to people we’d automatically dismiss.

“I love Slim because he truly loves August and me… I love him so much for convincing us that when Mum and Lyle are out for so long like they are at the movies and not, in fact, dealing heroin purchased from Vietnamese restaurateurs.

You just can’t help but fall in love with Eli and his brother, August. You’ll despise their arch enemies and hope like hell that there can be a better life for them both.

It is a wondrous book full of heart and soul. Get a copy, any way you can.

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