First Person Shooter by Cameron Raynes (MidnightSun Publishing) PB RRP $24.99, also available as an ebook ISBN 978 1925227079
Reviewed by Dianne Bates
This is MidnightSun Publishing’s first foray into cross-over fiction, described by Books+Publishing as ‘a slice of Australian Gothic’, with comparisons made to the works of Craig Silvey, Tim Winton and John Marsden, all of which must be encouraging for first time novelist Raynes.
First Person Shooter is told in first person by an interesting and likeable teenager, Jayden, who stutters, an affliction which causes him much embarrassment, to speak infrequently, and to become a keen listener and observer. Jayden lives with his dad and his aged dog, Charlie; he’s addicted to Xbox games, is a hard worker on his family orchard, and has a part-time job in a butcher’s. His best friend is the fatherless Shannon, whose mum Madeleine is in prison as a result of murdering her former partner, Terry.
This is a novel that strongly features a wide range of men from the feral and criminal to the average bloke. There is nothing pretentious or eccentric about the book’s characters as one often sees in current YA novels. Through Jayden’s intelligent eyes, Raynes writes about real characters one comes across in day-to-day life – characters you feel you might know, and some of them intimately. They are all strongly realised, even minor characters, like Jayden’s neighbour Nigel, an ex-bikie and Vietnam vet who is dying of liver failure, Roger the butcher with a lewd and suggestive mouth, Uncle Craig, a former soldier in Afghanistan and Dad’s brother. And then there’s Shannon, whose smile Jayden describes as ‘like a little bomb of goodness (that) has gone off inside her and everything about her glows.’
Told in sections, each representing a day of the week, and then six months later, the book concerns itself with maleness, soldiering, guns, butchering, bullying, assaults and more that imbues the story with a strong sense of testosterone-filled action. Caught with ammunition at school, Jayden is suspended. What follows is Madeleine’s released from prison and, at the same time, a local drug war. There is much suspense as the reader wonders if Madeleine’s sociopathic stepson will seek revenge for his father’s death.
This is an event-filled book which deals with many themes: death, family disintegration, friendship and loyalty, all happening in a small country town which is vividly realised. And, too, there are many memorable images created, for instance, a scene that perfectly captures the sheer terror Jayden experiences when he is asked to read in class (‘what I was going to say slouches off and dies somewhere inside me’) and ‘old memories, rubbed smooth by holding them too long in my head.’
Cameron Raynes and his publisher ought to feel pleased with this novel. It has a unique and compelling voice, one which isn’t often explored in YA literature. No doubt it will be short-listed for, or win awards.