Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett

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Penguin, 2014. ISBN 9781926428611 Recommended for Adults, not a Young Adult novel. Themes: Family dysfunction; Poverty; Child abuse; Friendship; Bullying; Class issues. Note: Language issues - swearing. A story set in a working class suburb and populated with dysfunctional characters. Into this world, with the pain of working poverty, family violence, abuse by neglect and children who seek small glimmers of hope or love, comes a family who don't seem to fit. The father is a professional, and seems too good to be true and his two sons, Colt and Bastian, are strangely disconnected to their new world. The family has wealth and toys and are showered with everything that could possibly buy friendship. However, even here there is dysfunction, loss and pain. The story is told via the stories of the young children and there is a naivety and confusion as they connect to one another. Freya, the only female character whose internal dialogue we are permitted to hear, is initially attracted to the eldest son, Colt, and yet his father becomes the one to whom she can unburden herself as she begins to lose faith in her own family. Her younger brothers are also attracted to the family and its collection of boy's toys. The local bully and another neglected child also become tangled within the web, and as an adult reader we become increasingly concerned for the welfare of all the children. Hartnett plots this tale so subtly, that initially it reads as a coming of age tale, with young characters revealing their growing maturity and criticisms of the adult world in which they live. However the underlying and creeping pain insidiously drifts through the story and we become increasingly uncomfortable as we realise that the children are all at risk and we are powerless to help. This is an adult novel as the issues of abuse and paedophilic grooming are not targeted to a young audience - however it is not a graphic telling. This is a tragedy, and every child seems to lose, and every adult relationship is flawed and sad. Caroline Hull