Review Blog

Jan 18 2018

Mallee boys by Charlie Archbold

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Wakefield Press, 2017. ISBN 9781743055007
(Age: 13+) Teenaged Sandy and his older brother Josh live with their father on a farm in Mallee country. These family members all love and care for each other in a blokey household where wife and mother Ellie is painfully missed following a fatal road accident. It is clear that each person is lost in their own way and the household barely manages to function at times when anger, hurt and frustration rise up and smother respectful communication and cooperation.
Aside from the bereavement two years previously, the family members struggle to deal with life's common challenges. Josh and his father work hard to earn a meagre living by cropping the marginal land and must manage with outdated and unreliable machinery, hard seasons and limited liquidity. Sandy yearns to complete his final years of study in Adelaide and applies to schools which can provide academic content and support which he can't access at his local school. The entrance examinations place a great deal of pressure upon both Sandy and rejection letters diminish his self-esteem.
Importantly, the story also considers the position of both boys as they try to meet girls and establish relationships in a setting where the limited population offers little opportunity to make friends with new people. I liked the way that awkwardness, lack of confidence and heart-ache were portrayed so realistically within a plot which presented every-day rural life simply and unapologetically.
The characters in this novel are entirely authentic and the author is clearly very familiar with the setting as she depicted them fondly and respectfully, without resorting to stereotype. It was pleasing to see that a vital plot development which strains friendships and tests family relationships was exactly the kind of event which could take place in a country setting. The resolution and conclusion are similarly satisfying for being measured and affirming.
This refreshing and intelligent story suits readers 13 and over.
Rob Welsh

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