A love letter to the western suburbs of Melbourne

tigerfishTITLE = TIGERFISH

AUTHOR = DAVID METZENTHEN

GENRE = AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS, FAMILY, GRIEF, VIOLENCE

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10 +

This is a brilliant and compelling novel. If “The Incredible Here and Now” is a love letter to the Western suburbs of Sydney, then this novel is an ode to the Western suburbs of Melbourne. It is an ode tinged with rawness and simmering violence, but also with loyalty and kindness.

Ryan is well aware that there is a bleak harshness about his suburb. There is fear lurking in the wasteland on the edge of his suburb: fear due to past violence and recent reports of a prowler on the loose. Even Ryan doesn’t want to be out in this bare wasteland at night. Yet despite this fear and darkness, Ryan clearly loves his neighbourhood and there is a lot to be loved – in the strong sense of community spirit and in Ryan himself.

Slate (Ryan’s brother) is stuck in a dead-end factory job by day and a bouncer’s job at night; simmering with anger about the consequences of past decisions.  Ariel, the new love of Ryan’s life, is trapped by her sad family history. School colleagues, Eden and Elmore are trapped by guilt. And caught between all these characters is Ryan himself; uncertain of his own future yet willing to reach out to others, however uncomfortable he may sometimes feel.

Loyalty is important to Ryan as is team work – and he uses his love of footy to guide his actions; moving forward, sidestepping where necessary, not always winning but willing to come back next week and give it a go. This is a compelling novel. Ryan’s voice is authentic and, at times, dryly funny. He sees the bleakness around him but he also sees the beauty in his community. What he perhaps doesn’t see, but what the reader will see, is how Ryan is a part of this beauty.

Highly Highly Recommended for older readers (dma) *****

A love letter to the western suburbs of Sydney

the incredible here and nowTITLE = THE INCREDIBLE HERE AND NOW

AUTHOR = FELICITY CASTAGNA

GENRE = AUSTRALIAN SUBURBS, FAMILY, GRIEF

INTEREST LEVEL = YEARS 10+

Rather than following a conventional narrative, this book is presented as a series of short snippets from Michael, a young man growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney. He is well aware of the prejudice others have towards his suburb, yet his stories speak only of the pride and affection he has for his neighbourhood. Even though there is sadness etched in between his stories, the sadness that comes with losing a loved one, we watch and hear how Michael and his family live their daily lives and the small pleasures that can be found here: in neighbours, in footy, in the local pool and the Macca’s carpark. His world is filled with likeable characters: Michael’s Poppy, his nephew Sam, his best-mate Shady and his first girlfriend, Mo. These characters become real and vivid as Michael shares their lives with us. Told in simple prose, these are simple short stories, often only a page or two in length yet they are brimming with sadness, humour and warmth. Together they fill out the story of a year in Michael’s life and his willingness to engage in “the incredible here and now” of growing up in Parramatta.

An enjoyable and heart-felt read. It is easy to see why this book was short-listed for the 2014 CBCA Book of the Year awards (Older Readers).

Highly Recommended (dma) ****