Scot Gardner, Sparrow,  Allen & Unwin,  August 2017,  224pp.,  $19.99 (pbk),  ISBN: 9781760294472

When a survival trip off the coast of the Kimberley goes wrong, sixteen year-old Sparrow must swim to shore.  There are sharks and crocs around him, but the monsters he fears most live in the dark spaces in his mind…

The latest book from award-winning author Scot Gardner, Sparrow is a true page turner that holds the reader’s attention and doesn’t let it go until the very last page. Gardner has crafted an arresting tale full of surprising narrative twists.

The story switches between two time periods – the present, where sixteen year-old Sparrow is fighting to survive in a harsh and unforgiving landscape; and the remembered past of Sparrow’s days on the streets of Darwin when he was eleven and living by the generosity of the people around him.  As the story develops, more facts emerge and we learn more about how Sparrow got to be where he is at the story’s opening.  In this respect Gardner is a true master of the slow reveal, giving us just as much as we need to know to have us hooked on his every word.  The more we learn about Sparrow’s path, the more we crave to find out.

Sparrow makes a good protagonist – we genuinely care about his struggle, we want to see him safe and warm and fed, we are heartbroken at the difficulties he faces and the tragedies that befall him.  Gardner uses a varied voice in telling this story – for the most part he uses the third person, but there are sections of the book where it switches to first, and then back again.  The effect is actually quite compelling, where in some other contexts that sort of thing might actually be a bit jarring.  The flow of the novel is in no way interrupted by the change in rhythm, in fact we find ourselves even more intrigued by this glimpse into the inner workings of Sparrow’s psyche.

Sparrow himself is 16 years of age, so this book will likely appeal to the 15-17 age bracket.  There’s a certain amount of violence, adult themes and coarse language in it, so I wouldn’t recommend it to readers any younger than that.

Gardner’s use of language is rich with lavish description, memorable characters and a highly compelling narrative.    It’s the sort of book that stays with you after you’ve finished it, which is the hallmark of a great story, and a great writer.

Teachers Notes are available on the Allen & Unwin website.

Reviewed by Christian Price

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