Review Blog

Oct 08 2018

A song only I can hear by Barry Jonsberg

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760630836
(Age: Secondary) Recommended for a library collection that has a LGBTIQ+ section. Themes: Anxiety; Friendship; Family relationships; Love and relationship; Transgender children; Secrets; Identity. Darwin author, Barry Jonsberg, has perfected the art of describing quirky children and teens. The bestselling author of My Life as an Alphabet has introduced the life and voice of a young teen, Rob, who is struggling with an array of issues and survives with the help of a quirky and faithful friend and family members with their own eccentricities. The story begins with a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde, which may give a hint to later revelations, but it also introduces the challenge of dealing with anxiety and panic attacks. The humour that is infused through the story as Rob attempts to make himself known to the new girl at school (who according to his Grandad has a name like an 80's band), to promote vegetarianism at school and beyond, and to learn how to communicate with his family, is gentle and endearing. Rob's trials though are extended through text challenges from a mystery source, with instructions to overcome the fears that hold him back. Grandad is also a mystery, and his Vietnam war PTSD appears as a backdrop to partially explain the cause of his foul-mouth (expressed as 'blanketty' in the text) and his secrecy about his own history and Rob's heritage. The story of a growth of confidence in Rob also has sadness woven through it.
The final section of the book where we understand that the book itself is almost a re-imagining of the real circumstances for Rob, comes as a revelation of the struggles for those who do not fit in society because of their gender orientation. It is gentle and witty and yet very deeply reflective. The power of literature to confront and inform is very definitely evident in this book, and it cleverly twists our expectations.
Carolyn Hull

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