Plenty by John Dale
XOUM Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781922057587.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Plenty seems to be an ironic name for the small coastal town which forms the setting of this story, for there is precious little in the town: a pub, a bakery, a picture theatre, a service station. It seems that life has passed this town by. Yet teenaged Jed seems content with his lot: working for his dad in the rundown service station, meeting up with his girlfriend Chrissie, whiling away the hours along the rocky foreshore.
But change is afoot. First, the local landmark of wealth, the rundown Mansfield property, is sold to an outsider and his daughter (Ashley). Then they take in the refugees whose boat comes aground near Plenty. Suddenly the town becomes the epicentre of a national news event: a new detention centre in Plenty is sure to bring an economic boost, according to the mayor. But the townspeople are wary of the hijab clad refugees and fearful about the impact upon their way of life.
Jed is thrown into uncertainty. Tempted by the beauty and swagger of Ashley and a witness to the arrival of the refugees, Jed is afraid to take sides preferring to watch as the story is played out in the pub and in the media. The town folk of Plenty may be full of bluff and bluster, especially after a night at the pub, yet what happens when a fire threatens the refugee camp? Surely there is a lesson to be learned from this, a lesson that may finally rouse Jed to action. But is his action right?
In a mere 150 pages, John Dale is able to capture both the narrow-mindedness of a small town and the sense of community as well. The stereotypes are there but so too is a fondness for the simple things in life. The novella may remind readers of the picture book The Island by Armin Greder, with its searing portrayal of xenophobia but a multiplicity of viewpoint is more evident in Plenty. Ultimately it becomes apparent that there is plenty to ponder beneath the surface of this aptly named town.