Saturday, 5 March 2011
Review: Everybody Jam
Author: Ali Lewis
Release date: 3rd March 2011
Target audience: 11+
UK Publisher: Andersen Press
Summary from Amazon:
Danny Dawson lives in the middle of the Australian outback. His older brother Jonny was killed in an accident last year but no-one ever talks about it.
And now it's time for the annual muster. The biggest event of the year on the cattle station, and a time to sort the men from the boys. But this year things will be different: because Jonny's gone and Danny's determined to prove he can fill his brother's shoes; because their fourteen-year-old sister is pregnant; because it's getting hotter and hotter and the rains won't come; because cracks are beginning to show ...
When Danny's mum admits she can't cope, the family hires a housegirl to help out - a wide-eyed English backpacker. She doesn't have a clue what she's let herself in for. And neither do they.
Everybody Jam is a poignant, funny and earthy coming-of-age story. I found it utterly mesmerising.
Danny is thirteen and this is the last year he will be at home on the cattle ranch for the annual muster. Next year he will be off at boarding school in Alice Springs. But this year everything is different because this is the first muster without Johnny. Danny is struggling to cope with the loss of his older brother and so are the rest of his family but no one talks about it. It is not only Danny’s life that is changing, his sister Sissy is pregnant and no one knows who the father is. When Danny’s mum decides that she needs help to run the house while Sissy is pregnant, a Pommie comes to stay at the ranch and it soon becomes apparent that she knows nothing about cattle mustering or anything else that might help you survive in the Australian outback.
Reading this story was a truly wonderful experience from the very first word until the very last. I was transported to the Australian outback and found reading about the workings of a cattle muster enthralling. Danny’s story of a boy who wants to be a man but doesn’t quite know how is touching and compelling. There are funny moments like when Danny teaches the Pommie how to drive in the outback. This is no suburban England! There are some gruesome moments which had me squealing just like the Pommie – think cattle body parts. Then there are some real weepy moments when your heart catches in your throat and you realise that Ali Lewis is an incredible storyteller.
The setting of this book is a much a part of the story as all the eccentric characters. The Australian outback is a desert so dry and arid that the ranchers worry about the bore holes drying up and the cattle dying, the sun beats fiercely down and they work through the sweat and then there is the worry of a bush fire.
Danny’s true coming-of-age happens through his relationship with his camel and with the Pommie. Now being a Pommie myself reading this story through Danny’s Aussie eyes was a thoroughly captivating experience. I loved how the novel was more about Danny than it was about grief. It touches upon many issues – teenage pregnancy, racism, loss, familial relationships – but doesn’t force upon you any sense of right or wrong. Everybody Jam is a special book that I’ll read again and again. For me it is a prize winner. I haven’t read a coming-of-age story this brilliant for a very long time indeed. It’s breathtaking when you realise that Ali Lewis is a debut author. An absolute keeper!