Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Book Review - Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis

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Set in the Australian outback, Everybody Jam is inspired by Lewis' own experiences working as a house girl during an annual cattle station muster while she was in Australia herself. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, a backpacking 'pommie' working at the protagonist's ranch plays a prominent role in her debut novel, a rites-of-passage tale that follows Danny Dawson, dealing with the fallout from his brother Jonny's tragic death last year. The small problem of his sister being pregnant aged fourteen only adds to the Dawson family's problems, and the never ending drought sure ain't helping either.

Lewis draws cannily on her own outback experiences, and not once does it feel like she doesn't know what she's talking about. She has the Aussie lingo down pat, and she gets inside Danny's head very impressively to deliver a narrative voice that is simultaneously masculine in its outward toughness, and vulnerable in its adolescent awkwardness. His relationship with 'pommie' Liz is undoubtedly the most important of the novel, arriving at a crossroads moment in the Dawson's lives as she does. Lewis resists the temptation to use Liz as a hackneyed life lessons vessel, keeping her influence on Danny and the others subtle. Initally hostile to the 'useless' English girl who keeps burning toast in the kitchen, Danny gradually grows closer to her, and grows as a person with it.

Everybody Jam won't be everybody's cup of tea (sorry). Some teenagers might well scratch their heads at the local venacular. Unusually for YA, Lewis is quite spare with the dialogue too, much preferring description, and her peculiar habit of having Danny quote other characters' dialogue in italics (e.g. she said she reckoned it would be a good idea to start thinking about sorting Jonny's things out.) will annoy as many people as it impresses. The story can be a bit predictable in places too, as all coming-of-age stories are prone to be. With its hard hitting themes of grief and prejudice, it's certainly not for younger readers, and its mid tempo pace does require more patience from the reader than the average YA novel. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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