#BookReview: The Boy from the Mish, by Gary Lonesborough (Goodreads Author), Allen and Unwin, 2021
From the publisher:
‘I don’t paint so much anymore,’ I say, looking to my feet.
‘Oh. Well, I got a boy who needs to do some art. You can help him out,’ Aunty Pam says, like I have no say in the matter, like she didn’t hear what I just said about not painting so much anymore. ‘Jackson, this is Tomas. He’s living with me for a little while.’
It’s a hot summer, and life’s going all right for Jackson and his family on the Mish. It’s almost Christmas, school’s out, and he’s hanging with his mates, teasing the visiting tourists, avoiding the racist boys in town. Just like every year, Jackson’s Aunty and annoying little cousins visit from the city – but this time a mysterious boy with a troubled past comes with them… As their friendship evolves, Jackson must confront the changing shapes of his relationships with his friends, family and community. And he must face his darkest secret – a secret he thought he’d locked away for good.
This is the third time I’ve tried to write this review. It was promised weeks ago. I read the book months ago, now. After I read it, I told everyone I knew about it, told everyone they had to read it. And when I sat down to write about it, I was so full of thoughts and feelings and ideas, they poured on to the page as if I were a bucket and this book was just so much ocean water that filled me to the brim and then spilled right over.
But then I read the words back and it seemed … they were just water, transparent and slippery and not enough.
So, I tried again, but this time I tried too hard, and the words were muddy.
This is the third time.
I’ve read the book again, since the first time I tipped that bucket over. It just filled me up more.
This book is everything.
This book is love and sadness and anger and lust and betrayal and grief and hope. This book is the book I wished I had as a kid, growing up in a rural community, questioning who I was and what my life was for. This is a book about the power of friendship and family and love and dreams – a book about small towns and tight communities and secrets and lies.
This is a book about people I knew, growing up. About people I wish I knew. About people I wish I was.
This is the love story I’ve been looking for, in all the romances I’ve been reading. It’s the coming-of-age book I want to press into the palm of every young boy I meet, and most girls, too.
Gary Lonesborough is an astonishing talent. It’s clear he has poured his heart and soul and history into this book, but his immense skill as a craftsman means that it never feels like a simple retelling. The prose is poetry. The characters are poetry. The life and heart in this book are bigger than the ocean. I fell in love with Jackson, a little bit more with Tomas. I don’t think I breathed throughout the entire story; such was the intensity of my hope for them – for everything to turn out okay.
Some YA coming-of-age stories feel didactic, or formulaic, or cliched. This one just felt real.
I wish I could write words here that would do it justice, but I’m just still so filled with everything, and all that will come out when I try to write is water and mud and a sincere wish that every kid who needs this book finds it; that every adult who has kids in their life finds it; that every human who wants to be filled with the ocean and the sky and love and hope … I wish for them to find it, too.
Apologies for my inarticulateness. This book left me with too many words and not enough.
This is the third time I’ve tried to write them down.
I’ll stop now.
Please, just find it. Hold it close. Love it, like I did. Say a prayer of thanks for beautiful books like these.
Review by Kate Gordon.