In brief: Adam leads a life different to your average teenager. When he escapes, Billy takes him under his wing. But can they both survive life on the streets?
The good: A fast read, dealing with a part of life that the average person never experiences.
The not-so-good: Stomach churning in parts.
Pages: 298 (ARC)
Publisher: Michael Joseph (Penguin)
Setting: Urban Australia
My rating: 7 out of 10
Through the Cracks is not a cushy, comfortable read – let’s get that out of the way first. You won’t be chuckling to yourself as you read this – in fact, you’re more likely to be squirming in your seat as your mind conjures the images that Honey Brown suggests has happened to her protagonists. It’s a well written novel, but it deals with subject matter that most of us are fortunate not to have any experience with. It’s a book that you’ll feel slightly guilty for racing through the pages, trying to work out if someone, anyone, gets their happy ending.
The blurb on the back of the book suggests what has happened to Adam, but it certainly doesn’t prepare you for the narrative. Adam is a teenage boy, who is usually locked in the backroom by his abusive father. One day, Adam snaps and hits his father. The game then changes as Adam slowly begins to equalise the relationship with his father. Eventually, Adam makes his escape into a world that he’s never known. A chance meeting with another teenage boy, Billy (who uses Adam’s father’s pool) finds Adam on the street. However, Billy has knowledge of that life and guides Adam through it. The boys then begin to realise that Adam’s father was part of something much bigger, involving a number of men, women and possibly an organisation in the abuse of young boys. As they set out to settle the score, things become much more dangerous for Billy and Adam…and Adam discovers he may not be Adam after all…
The time and setting of Through the Cracks is somewhat murky – at first I thought it was Brisbane (perhaps because of the heat and humidity described) but later I think I recall trams and Geelong being mentioned, so it’s more likely to be Melbourne. As for time, it appears to be set in the 1980s, but it’s hazy (no mobile phones mentioned and everyone’s smoking indoors). I would have liked to have known a time and location, just to set the scene in my mind.
Initially, Adam reminded me of the boy from Emma Donoghue’s Room, in that everything is new to him. His knowledge of everyday life comes only from television, but it’s lucky that Adam has Billy to guide him. Billy’s world weary and street smart. With him to guide Adam, his fate could have been much, much worse. The boys are no angels while they’re on the streets – stealing cars and breaking and entering but it’s written in such a way that you don’t blame the boys for doing all they can to survive. As this is happening, the true story about Adam’s history is being revealed – the abduction, detention and abuse. Is he really even Adam? Billy reveals he knew more about Adam than he first let on, and we find out how for him, the abuse has continued, compounded by a fractured family life and threats from an organisation. The ending is both heart-warming and heartbreaking.
I found Through the Cracks a difficult read for its gloominess – there are very few happy points in this novel. It’s confronting and dark, tackling issues that we prefer not to occur in society. I’d suggest balancing this one out with another book with a happily ever after. It’s an important subject, but not a happy one.