Everybody Jam (by Ali Lewis)

3 10 2012

Everybody Jam is as Australian as it gets – flashbacks of  episodes of The Flying Doctors, Bill Bryson, dry heat and deserts, it’s all coming back to the cat!

Set on a cattle farm in the Northern Territories, 13-year-old Danny Dawson is our narrator who introduces us to his grief-ridden family. His older brother Jonny died and nobody has really recovered from it, least of all Danny himself, who is dead set on leaving everything in his room – including the bed sheets – just in the way it was when Jonny died. Moreover, the family is at yet another hurdle in their life: 14-year-old Sissy is pregnant and nobody knows who the father is and to top it off it’s the muster the annual roundup of the cattle, which is proving to be excruciatingly hard this year due to the blistering heat and drought they’ve been suffering from for almost 2 years now.

Everybody Jam is a great debut, featuring a great voice in Danny. For him everything is normal: the muster, the things people do at the farm, the way you think about gins (aborigines) and interracial relationships, what you ask and don’t ask for breakfast (that Pommie was bloody useless, not even knowing what everybody jam is (apricot jam – because everybody likes it) , which makes it often more alienating for the reader because we are not all used to Danny’s very obvious and ‘normal’ things. However, the two standout elements in this little gem is the language (so deliciously Australian) and the scorching setting: brutal, unapologetic, otherworldly even.

Everybody Jam was shortlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal. This is, incidentally in the same year as when Patrick Ness won with A Monster Calls. With that book it has a sense of honesty and raw emotion in common, something which makes it into a must read for everyone interested in Australian (Outback) culture, a great coming-of-age story or just a plain good book.

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