Friday 20 September 2013

That Boy Jack

That Boy Jack by Janeen Brian (Walker Books)
PB RRP $16.95
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Jack and Gilbert have been mates from the age of six. They are miners’ sons and have made a promise to follow in their fathers’ footsteps when they reach the age of fourteen. Jack’s mother has other dreams for her bright and promising son. 

When Gilbert’s father is badly injured at work and there’s no income to feed their large family, Gilbert begins work at the picky-table. He reminds Jack of his promise. Jack, regardless of other dreams but tightly bound to his childhood promise, reluctantly leaves school at the age of twelve and joins Gilbert. Jack believed that he and Gilbert were the same. When he goes down a shaft and sees how miners work with the pick, and experiences the fear of the darkness, he realises they are different.

Gilbert’s father’s legs are amputated after infection sets in and his family are forced to accept a new proposition in Adelaide. The friends are separated and Jack returns to school. But things have changed there too. The new school master subjects him to brutal punishment daily. The class bully shows no mercy, and his life without word from Gilbert grows more complex each day as he suffers degradation without being able to tell his parents what is going on.

‘There is nothing so terrible that you can’t speak of it’, the doctor tells him. Jack’s greatest challenge is to find the courage to reshape his life, beginning by sharing his problems with the people who love him most.

This is a moving coming of age story set in Moonta, South Australia, 1874. It shows an in-depth view of life in the mines and the prefiguring of boys’ lives to follow in their father’s footsteps.

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