Tuesday 1 August 2023

Saltwater Boy

Saltwater Boy by Bradley Christmas (Walker Books Australia) PB RRP $18.99 ISBN 9781760656393

Reviewed by Kerry Gittins

Matty’s dad is in prison and he and his mum don’t have enough money to pay the rent anymore. Plus, the school bully, Noonan, has it in for him. But he still has Asha, his best friend in the whole wide world. One afternoon when he gets home from school, Matty finds mum has packed his things in the car and tells him they’re leaving tomorrow. They can’t pay the rent anymore and money – or the lack of it – is a big problem. Matty is devastated. Mum tells him they’re going to Crawley Creek to stay in the old house that his grandpa built but never got to live in. But what about Asha? They were planning on spending the summer together, before he went to the local high school where there were a thousand Noonans, and she went to the selective high school her adoptive parents were pushing her to go to. She was his only friend - apart from the magpie that warbles hello every day. When will he see her again? ‘Just for the summer,’ his mother assures him. ‘Just until we can get back on our feet a bit. Can you do this for me? For us Matty?’

This is a story about survival, renewal and forgiveness. The author writes with such depth, insight and understanding of the landscape, the sea, and the specialness of the world and those around us. He encourages us to look deep inside ourselves and find the strength to take care and pride in ourselves, our communities, and our country. His descriptions of the landscape and the creatures and spirits that dwell there, are hauntingly beautiful and draw the reader further into country and the lives of those in the small township by the sea that is the backdrop for the story. Matty’s interactions with Old Bill, the town outcast, and his father who turns up unexpectedly, become increasingly complex as the tale unwinds, yet they are also simple, and full of an inner yearning to belong, be seen as, and find, your true self. A nuanced, heartfelt and absorbing story of the interconnectedness of the people and places that enrich our lives. Highly recommended for ages 10 +

Themes for teaching could include father-son relationships, families, indigenous stories, indigenous culture, resilience, compassion, communities, coming of age, environment, sustainability, friendship.


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