Gus and the missing boy by Troy Hunter

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Feeling wrong. Feeling out of place. Feeling like you don’t belong. Many teenage readers will identify with the feelings of the three friends in Troy Hunter’s novel. Gus, Shell and Kane are three young people, each struggling with identity issues. For Kane, three years older than the others, it’s a crisis after finishing school, to find his football aspirations stalled by a difficult knee injury; for Shell, it’s a sense of not being the same inside as she appears on the outside, and for Gus, it’s a longstanding feeling that somehow he is out of sync with the world, ‘like every part of him is wrong’.

Gus’s life is not easy. He is gay, he is the fat kid, his father has been killed in a car accident, and he has become the carer to his mother whose legs were badly injured in the same crash. He is on meds and is seeing a psych, after finding relief in cutting himself. There is a warning at the start of the book that this novel includes references to self-harm, and there are help sites listed at the end, but while there are references to the cuts, this is not an aspect that is overly dwelt on. It is part of the whole picture of the ‘fishhooks’ of feelings that beset him.

Very early on, it seems there might possibly be some validation for Gus’s feelings of not belonging, when he comes across a website showing AI mock-ups of how missing children might look years after their disappearance, and there staring at him is his own face. Is it possible that he was an abducted child? Are his ‘parents’ actually kidnappers? Gus has always wanted to be a police investigator, could it be that the victim in his first investigation case is actually himself?

It is a thrilling ride as the three friends band together to investigate. The reader is not quite sure whether the similarity of the photo image is just a coincidence that will eventually be explained, or whether the three are actually venturing into a dangerous unsolved crime. But the evidence seems to build up, and provide some justification for the tension between Gus and his mother. The chapters move quickly as the three draw closer to finding out the truth. Curiosity and suspense will keep the reader turning the pages.

Gus and the missing boy is a crime thriller for young adult readers, at the same time giving validation to teenage feelings of anxiety and confusion about their place in the world. It is also a powerful portrayal of how true friendship and loyalty can provide the support to work through problems and reach a sense of self-acceptance. This is an excellent book for YA readers, highly recommended.

Themes: Identity, Belonging, Missing persons, Kidnapping, Self-harm, Crime, LGBQTI+.

Helen Eddy