Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

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A (very) brief plot overview

At just thirteen, Eli Bell’s life is already complicated – living in suburban Brisbane with a mute brother, a dealer stepdad, a junkie mum and a babysitter who spent most of his life in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit, things aren’t easy. But when legendary drug dealer Tytus Broz pays an unwelcome visit, things only spiral out of control even more…

What’s good about it?

This was the first book I picked to read in my book club simply because it was Australian fiction and the buzz surrounding this book is everywhere right now. As you can see from the cover, it has won a lot of awards and it has been prominent in book shop window displays for months now. I wanted to see if it lived up to the hype… it did, and then some.

The first chapter is a little strange to read, but after that the book grabs you. There are times you simply cannot put the book down because you want to know what happens next. The book feels long – think small print and almost 500 pages – but I flew through it. I couldn’t not – I needed to find out what happened to these characters.

There are times when the writing of this book is almost poetic. The prettiness of the language contrasts sharply with the foul language, the sickening violence and the constant drug references. Usually I cannot stomach things that are violent and depict savage scenes – I’m a horror film wimp and the sight of blood makes me feel faint – but in this book the ugliness of what was happening was mixed with such beautiful writing that I didn’t want to turn away. It felt important to read these things, to know that there can be such awful things in the world, but that around them can also be so many wonderful things, so many beautiful moments that we should pay more attention to.

One of my favourite things about this book is how it highlights how not everyone is who they seem. Eli’s dad might appear like a drunken bum, but he is more literate and well read than most English professors. Slim might have been jailed for murder, but he cares about Eli in the way that most people would only care for their own children. It’s a reminder that appearances can be deceiving, that sometimes the rich people are the baddies, that sometimes good people do bad things because they have no alternative choice. It’s a reminder to look for the details in someone’s actions to tell you about their character, just like Eli did.

I really can’t recommend this book enough. I’m sad it ended because I could have carried on reading about Eli’s life forever.

What’s not so good?

Do not be fooled by the pink cover – it is not a poolside, should-be-a-chick-flick book. If you don’t like swearing or violence, then you won’t like this one.

There were a few parts of this book that could have perhaps been cut a little shorter. One of Eli’s strongest traits is the attention he pays to detail, but that sometimes created paragraphs that had you wanting to skim read a little.

Rate me: 10/10. I loved it – there’s not much more to say other than that.

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