Underground Road by Sharon Kernot

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Wakefield Press, 2013. ISBN: 9781743051922.
(Age: 15+) Underground Road is the first novel by Adelaide author Sharon Kernot. The novel tells the story of a group of people who share the same street in a underprivileged socio-economic suburban community. Whilst the stories of each of the main protagonists are told in separate chapters, each of the events and actions steadily become intertwined over the whole novel. Mary is forced to do community work at the local community soup kitchen in order to receive Centrelink benefits much to her recently retired husband's disapproval. Meanwhile, Mary's good friend struggles with an addiction to gambling on poker machines. At the same time, a young boy Damien struggles to deal with his violent step-father, Marcus, and a neighborhood bully. Incidentally, Tyson, the neighbourhood bully, has been moved to live with his mother as he is the product of a drug affected mother. This is all happening, whilst a paranoid schizophrenic man, Kenneth, raids the letter boxes of the people on the street stealing their mail, and overdue utility bills.
Underground Road is a gripping yet saddening novel, as it describes in detail the way in which problems, such as mental illness, gambling, domestic violence, bullying, as well as drug and alcohol addiction, associated with poverty can manifest and interact within the one local community. Whilst many worthwhile statements are made in this novel about the lack of justice and equity in these poorer socio-economic communities, it really struggles to propose any real solutions. The language and violence themes in this novel would suggest that this book would be most suited to older students (15 years plus), however this is somewhat contradicted by one of the main character being of primary school age.
Adam Fitzgerald