Changing gear by Scot Gardner
Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN 9781760631468
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Themes: Journeys. Road trip. Western Victoria. Merrick tosses in his final weeks of school, just before his year twelve exams, to take off on his beloved motorbike and see what happens. Seemingly with no particular aim to begin with, he finds more than he expected, walking side by side with a homeless man, a tramp who has plied the roads for over thirty years.
I love the story on the road, but found the early interaction with his peers heavy going, as he seemed so out of touch with them, a watcher rather than one of the group. Once on the road this persona falls away and he is able to breathe the fresh air, see the horizon and just ride. That is until his chain breaks, out on a dirt road miles from Dimboola. But Merrick has made some bad choices: leaving behind his wallet, not taking essentials like matches and toilet paper and not taking anything to repair his bike. So finding the philosophical old man tramping between the towns, offering advice, helping with things like how to clean your bottom without loo paper, is serendipitous, leading Merrick to understand just how and why he is here.
Based partly on Gardner's own motorbike trip around Australia, meeting a man who formed the basis of Merrick, enjoying the freedom of the open road, this story reflects the journey of many, that of finding out where they belong in a confusing world.
The banter between Merrick and Victor exposes the eighteen year old to the reader, and they will see his ideas about who he is and his place in the world develop as he travels further from home.
Gardner writes stories that reveal the stress of boys growing up to be young men, confused at what life offers, unsure of where they fit in with other people, particularly girls, often putting on a brave face, but in this case, having that mask questioned by an old man, one who has seen everything in his years on the road.