Review Blog

Jul 17 2014

Calypso Summer by Jared Thomas

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Magabala Books, 2014. ISBN 9781922142122.
(Ages: Mature senior secondary students) Kyle Summer is a young Nukunu man who lives near Henley Beach in Adelaide. He's known to all as Calypso because of his dreadlocks, love of Bob Marley and reggae music and the West Indies cricket team. His Rasta persona masks his own insecurities. After leaving school and failing to get his dream job in a sports store, he is at a loss and spends a lot of time smoking dope and not much else. Then things start to look up, he ends up with a job in a health food store and really has a knack for it, gets on well with his boss and starts to turn his life around. He moves out of home and into a little flat and feels proudly independent. The blight on this is a cousin, Run, moving in to bludge. When his boss suggests getting some native bush remedies to sell as products in the store, Calypso's mother directs him to his mob in the Southern Flinders Ranges and this urban Indigenous man begins to develop an affinity with his country and culture.
Ensuing troubles with some less than welcoming cousins, and the deadbeat Run, who is thieving and dealing dope, result in some major drama for
Calypso, but the support of his new girlfriend, a smart Ngadjuri girl who happens to share his passion for cricket, and the newly found family circle, prove the right medicine for his woes.
Winning the State Library of Queensland award in 2013 Black & Write competition, Jared Thomas has tried to provide a realistic view of the struggle for young Indigenous people and their conflicts with cultures.
Personally I found the novel a bit hard-going at times and found it difficult to connect with the characters or be sympathetic. I have Koori and Murri family and friends, have spent years teaching Indigenous kids, young adults, and adults, and worked in Indigenous units and while lots of these friends use the word 'deadly' their vocabulary does also embrace other adjectives. There was a point when I thought if I read the word 'deadly' one more time I might just scream. The novel seemed rather heavy-handed in its heaping upon the reader every conceivable Indigenous issue.
That being said, I believe that young people would relate to it and non-Indigenous readers would gain some understanding of the challenges facing Indigenous culture.
The novel is marketed as YA but I would suggest that it is only suitable for mature senior students. The frequent profanity and emphasis on drug usage would make me hesitate about making it generally available.
Sue Warren

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