Of a Boy – Sonya Hartnett (2003)

I don’t seem to have read that much Australian literature, so thought I would get this one, a novella that was shortlisted for 2003 Man Booker Prize (as it was called then), and also the winner of the Miles Franklin Award. And this read was a corker!

Written from the POV of a nine-year old boy who is living with his grandmother (a reluctant caregiver) and his layabout but kind uncle Rory, this gives the reader an inside look at how Adrian sees the world: he is worried about quicksand and spontaneous combustion, he only has one friend (and this is a bit shakey), he knows that his parents didn’t really want him, and the world is spinning uncontrollably and confusingly around him.

What makes things even more unstable for Adrian is that three young children from his town go missing and the media are full of their story for weeks. And it is this unexplainable disappearance that worries Adrian the most – if it could happen to those children, it could happen to him. And if his parents don’t want him and his grandma is not that enthusiastic, who would look for him?

I really just wanted to squeeze little Adrian and say life gets easier for the most part. But he’s a character in a novella and so, as the reader, you are forced to sit there, watching him worry about things that nine-year olds shouldn’t really be worrying about.

Hartnett really did a good job of bringing Adrian’s thoughts to the fore in this story. I could really understand why Adrian felt the way that he did and did some of the choices that he did because if I had had his life experiences, perhaps I would have done the same. His wary development of some neighborhood friends is nerve-wracking – I so wanted things to work out well for him.

And then, the ending! Wow. I certainly didn’t see that coming. It was an excellent and shocking finish to the story and I am still thinking about it hours after I finished reading it. A very good read.

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