Changing Gear by Scott Gardner

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Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760631468
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Themes: relationships, family, self-discovery, nature. Year 12 is over and Merrick Hilton has two weeks to study for his final exams. He tells his amicably separated parents he is staying at the other's place and takes off on his restored postie bike. Since the death six months before, of his grandfather, his rock and mentor, Merrick has been disengaged with life, slipping through the space between the two families, and the road trip is a spur of the moment decision. "If you feel like shit, don't just sit around; make something, clean something, smash something - Grandad" p 33. Leaving behind his broken phone and forgetting his wallet, Merrick gathers up his swag, a handful of muesli bars and some cash he had stashed away and rides. Life on the road is challenging in many ways but the constant movement and passing landscape meets his needs, challenging his entrenched habits and when he reaches Little Desert National Park the slower pace required by sandy roads allows him to observe nature more closely. When the chain breaks on his bike Merrick reaches a low point. "I needed boobs, but there were none. I needed food. Proper food, not just muesli bars and bruised fruit. If I'd given this trip more than a moment's thought before I barrelled out the gate, I'd be in a much better place right now." p 69. On the remote desert track Merrick is forced to push his bike a considerable distance until he meets an old man walking the track who reminds him of his grandfather. Victor makes a temporary repair to the bike chain but it soon fails again and they walk together towards the nearest town. Somehow slowing down to a walking pace has grounded Merrick and the two find companionship while facing the challenges of the road.
Merrick's road trip is more than a simple coming of age story; it canvasses a wide range of issues including grief, relationships, real versus internet/media experience, values and a philosophy of life. The vast empty beauty of the land and the walking pace allows for a clarity of thought rarely possible in our modern world. Merrick is not afraid to listen and to learn to respect the land as he pursues his life-affirming inner and outer journey.
This is a robust and engaging story recommended especially for boys fourteen and over.
Sue Speck