Peter Carnavas, My Brother Ben, University of Queensland Press, September 2021, 208 pp., RRP $14.99 (pbk), ISBN 9780645150148
Things don’t always work out. Maggie might not come back. But where there were birds, there was hope.
When Luke finds an injured magpie on the road soon after his dad leaves the family, it feels like it was meant to be. A new world is opened to him— a love of birds that distracts him from some of the things he’s been trying to forget. The only thing more important to Luke than finding new birds to add to his sketchbook, is his brother, Ben.
Soon the new school year begins, and Ben and Luke are drifting apart. Ben is a high-schooler now, his new friend Frankie appears on the scene, and Luke feels more lost than ever. Will he and Ben ever go back to being “real” brothers? Will Luke ever feel ready to answer his dad’s phone calls?
My Brother Ben is an intricate and engaging portrayal of loss, the wonder of the natural world, and the power of the sibling bond. Luke’s journey as he learns to accept his father’s absence is deftly portrayed —his sadness is keenly felt by the reader, but is juxtaposed by the humour of his relationship with Ben, and the vivid setting of Cabbage Tree Creek. I appreciated the fact that while adults were present in the novel, they didn’t overpower the narrative of what was going on for Luke and Ben. The book’s construction was another delight, with Luke’s bird sketches appearing in the margins and endpapers.
The novel’s humour, page-turning pace and attention to detail make it a standout read. It was a privilege to go on this heart-warming, healing journey with these characters.
But the memories had a new shape now, a different colour, like the gold that fell on the trees at sunset.
Recommended for ages 8 and up.
Reviewed by Sarah Stivens