Holden Sheppard , Invisible Boys, Fremantle Press, October 2019, 344 pp., RRP $19.99 (pbk), ISBN 9781925815566
From the moment I started reading this book, I knew it was going to have an impact. Written from the viewpoints of several teenage boys, the reader is instantly engaged in their lives. Hammer, Zeke and Charlie narrate their specific chapters, headed with a title and each boy’s name. Another character appears throughout in communication he is writing, title Letterbomb #. These are in italics, with no name as to the author, so the reader is guessing who it is well into the narrative.
Each of the four boys is gay, each at different points of either coming out to those around them or coming to terms with their sexuality. Charlie is in a band with two of his closest friends. His father is deceased, and his mother and her partner are less than supportive, to say the least. Zeke is the second son of what first appears a tight knit family of Italian heritage and tradition. Academically bright, he is not an athlete and is often the brunt of the sporty boys’ jokes. This leads to my introduction of Hammer, football star and ladies’ man to those who think they know him.
Set in Geraldton in Western Australia, like all small towns, secrets are hard to keep. When Charlie hooks up with an older man, thinking he was single, the man’s wife returns home and Charlie is subsequently outed in the worst of ways. He is tough and resilient, but without the support of his mother and her partner, and his friends, he finds support with Zeke, Matt, and at times, Hammer. All boys have their own dilemmas to deal with, and each is explored in an authentic way.
This is a tight, well-written novel full of emotion and energy. The voices of the boys are authentic and are all different. Often when novels are written from different characters’ viewpoints it is hard to differentiate who is speaking, but not so in this novel. The writing is clear and unambiguous. There are many instances which explore the representation of masculinity in this book and the many battles young gay men face, particularly in regional areas, an often more conservative part of Australia. There is support from some, and a surprising lack of support from others. I can see this book helping many young people, their families and friends. Note however, there are sex scenes so some educators might want to preview the book before adding to a school collection. As a parent, I wouldn’t have a problem with my teenagers reading this, but some school libraries may need to be more selective. Public libraries not so, where this book should be stocked in multiples in both adult and YA sections.
This book has many qualities and it explores many factors that should be present for young adults, in their literature. Holden Sheppard is a huge talent and I look forward to more by him.
Reviewed by Liz Derouet