Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Tribal Lores

Tribal Lores by Archimede Fusillo (Walker Books Australia) PB RRP $19.99 ISBN 9781760651954

Reviewed by Dianne Bates

There are numerous tribes in this hefty 420-page YA novel, but the principal ones are an Italian and Australian family who are next door neighbours. 

Fusillo explores the dynamics of these families as they interact with one another. In one house is Frankie, the book’s narrator, the eldest son of Italian parents and brother of Stefano (about to start high school but unwilling to Anglicise his name). In the other house are the Marshalls – mum, dad, Lochie, sister  Catherine, and Lochie’s half-sister, the 17-year-old pregnant Em, and her layabout hippy partner Ray. There is also a long-dead sister, Amelia, who is still mourned by the family. Frankie, who is 16, says, ‘what I have at home is a tribe. We’re like related, but we’re not, sort of…’ Frankie and Lochie, too, have another tribe – their friends China, Go, and Spicks who they play – and fight – with.

This is basically a book about relationships, with interesting characters such as Frankie’s cousin, Gabbie, a wheelchair-bound lesbian, and Uncle Zio Peter, a gambler who is constantly borrowing money from his dad. There are secrets in Lochie’s family, too, such as his dad’s alcoholism. As Frankie tries to navigate relationships, he observes, ‘Every tribe has a certain level of chaos that (runs) through their lives.’ Thus, the book explores the notion of extended family linked by culture as well as by blood.

The book starts on Australia Day with Frankie’s family invited to the Marshall’s for a barbeque. Frankie’s mother takes a mass of Italian food including buffalo mozzarella arancini, prosciutto, and almond crispelli. Immediately, of course, the cultural differences are apparent.

Despite tensions simmering just below the surface for both boys and their families, Frankie and Lochie have a bond that connects their different worlds. Archimede Fusillo has written a raw and powerful coming of age novel and it is easy to appreciate his honest and raw approach to portraying family dynamics as well as the dynamics of the boys’ friendship group which has its problems.  

At times, the plot is slow-moving, especially the scenes between Frankie and Andrew (China) Wang. However, teenagers who enjoy a nostalgic coming of age story that explores culture and growing up, are sure to find much to like in this book.

 

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