Thursday 13 October 2011

REVIEW - 'Brown Skin Blue', Belinda Jeffrey (UQP, 2009)

Seventeen-year-old Barry Mundy, growing up with no father, a white mother and brown skin, is now a drifter, trying to come to terms with his darkest secret. When lands a job on a croc-jumping river cruiser in the 'top end' of Australia, how can he make sure that his past doesn't determine his future?

Anyone who assumes young adult fiction is all fluff and nonsense (we all know it is anything but, but many do not, or don't really want to know) should pick up this book and get completely lost in it. They really should.

I was a bit worried about starting this - I had the good fortune to attend a recent YA workshop run by the author - she was brilliant - encouraging and really inspiring, but part of me felt I wouldn't be able to completely enjoy the book because I'd been given an insight into the thought processes behind it. Is this a common worry? Anyway, I was being slightly ridiculous, because the writing is so damn good, I had no problem whatsoever getting lost here and had a fair few problems trying to find my way out again.

On the face of it, this is pretty bleak stuff. Barry is the recovering victim of a paedophile, struggling to come to terms with his past as he embarks on his sexual maturity. He decides he need to fill in the blanks of his family history and sets off to discover the identity of his father, escaping into fantastical story-telling when the reality never lives up to what he hopes.

Yes, weighty stuff, I think you'll agree. But as with most of the more serious, thought provoking reads, there is always a heavy dose of hope to get us through the rougher stuff. The balance here is just right - the author doesn't shy away from any of the more controversial material, and so she shouldn't, and Barry's pitch perfect matter-of-fact voice makes this all the more heartbreaking.

I love different story-telling devices and they're used to great effect here. Barry's thoughts on his potential father figures translate into fables reminiscent of those told in his childhood. This adds adds an ethereal layer to the stories, bringing together the themes of memory and fantasy. Just brilliant.

The supporting characters are all skillfully put to good use, fellow lost soul Sally, in particular showing us  how everyone has a story to tell and a secret to hide.

Just such an Australian book (and this is a major compliment, by the way) - the dusty setting, the dialogue, the vulnerability to the forces of nature, the isolation. I could almost smell the muddy river!

Very much recommended for pretty much everyone. In fact, I'm going to change my goodreads rating from 4 to 5 as soon as I've posted this.

Has anyone else read this one?


  1. This one sounds great, Anna. I've never heard of it before... I'll definitely have to give it a read.
    I'm always on the look out for YA fiction with a male protagonist!
    Fantastic review :)

  2. Thanks Jo. Not sure about its availability outside Aus, but well worth a look