Tom Houghton by Todd Alexander

In brief: Tom is a lost young man growing up in suburbs of Sydney. He knows he’s different, but how does he express it? Told by child Tom and adult Tom, this book will tug at your heart.

The good: The story of young Tom is raw and honest. Plus the cover is silver sequins.

The not-so-good: Poor young Tom! Adult Tom needed some blunt advice at times.

Why I chose it: Thanks to Simon & Schuster.

Year: 2015

Pages: 3295 (eARC)

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Setting: Mainly Sydney, Australia and Edinburgh, Scotland.

My rating: 8 out of 10

Tom Houghton has a gorgeous sparkly cover, but don’t start thinking that the inside is going to be all sparkly and gorgeous. The cover hides a story with a dual narrative (and what a sucker I am for those) that’s all about the same character, in his childhood and as an adult in the present day. If you’re a Katharine Hepburn fan, you might be familiar with the name Tom Houghton. (If you’re a huge Hepburn fan, you might even have an inkling about why silver sequins are on the cover). But this is not about Katharine’s brother, Tom Houghton Hepburn. This is about young Tom Houghton, a lonely boy from Sydney’s suburbs who is bright, unique and desperate to fit in. Yet he revels in his differences, refusing to budge until he’s broken down by a group of callous boys.

As an adult, Tom is an actor and his life is going in circles. He’s pretty sure that his boyfriend is just using him as free rent and he’s just made a complete idiotic fool of himself drunk at a party. His mother, isn’t doing too much better. Adult Tom appears to be in a cycle of self-destruction and he doesn’t really feel the need initially to break out of it. There will always be a friend to help him. This is in contrast to young Tom, who has very, very few friends. I found the young Tom charming in his eccentricity and determination (he has his own catalogue of movie stars in index cards with pertinent information) but I didn’t like adult Tom at all.

I longed for the sections on Tom as a child – he’s raw and honest with the reader in a way that I don’t see very often in fiction targeted at adults. Tom is curious, scared, and desperate for a friend and someone to love. He doesn’t get that much at school or at home. His attempts to stand out, while clearly rooted in failure (you just know his Hollywood outfit will end in tears), are endearing. All child Tom is doing is trying to reach for the stars. If he believes he’s almost the reimagining of his favourite movie star’s brother, well, it’s just something else to like about him. Unfortunately kids his own age don’t see it that say and Tom trying to fend them off in various ways is painful to read as is the bullying.

Adult Tom is selfish and lazy. There’s very little of that young boy left in him. I couldn’t care too much for what happened to him – in fact, I was angry and embarrassed at the way he treated characters close to him. What happened in the intervening years to ruin this young man? Piece by piece, the story is told. And likewise, glimpses of young Tom are seen in adult Tom. I would have liked a more detailed explanation of what happened to Tom in his teenage years, but maybe I’m just a nosy reader. I just wanted to make sure that young Tom was okay and hopefully try to put him back on the rails before he became bitter.

As you can tell, Todd Alexander creates memorable characters that you will care deeply for (or absolutely detest if they’re the ones hassling young Tom). The story is engaging and the pages flew by. I think the story would have worked just as well for me if it me if it was just about child Tom but in retrospect, perhaps we need to see adult Tom to see how childhood trauma can define your adult years.

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