Danny Dawson lives in the middle of the Australian outback. His older brother Jonny was killed in an accident last year but no-one ever talks about it.
And now it’s time for the annual muster. The biggest event of the year on the cattle station, and a time to sort the men from the boys. But this year things will be different: because Jonny’s gone and Danny’s determined to prove he can fill his brother’s shoes; because their fourteen-year-old sister is pregnant; because it’s getting hotter and hotter and the rains won’t come; because cracks are beginning to show . . .
When Danny’s mum admits she can’t cope, the family hires a housegirl to help out – a wide-eyed English backpacker. She doesn’t have a clue what she’s let herself in for. And neither do they.
Danny is thirteen and still trying to cope after the death of his older brother last year. He has an older sister Sissy who is pregnant at fourteen. Its summer in Australia and the rains aren’t coming. The annual muster at the cattle station at which Danny lives is about to happen and Danny is determined to show his Dad that he is growing up and that he can live up to the shadow of Jonny, his older brother. Amongst all of this enters an English housegirl, she hasn’t got a clue how an Australian cattle ranch his run. But maybe she is what Danny needs to help both him and his family heal.
I really struggled to get into this book. It took me over a week to get to page 50 which is most unlike me. In fact had it not been on the Carnegie shortlist I probably would have given up. I am however glad I didn’t, although slow to start Everybody Jam turned into a poignant coming of age tale that grew and grew on me. I found the language hard to start with, Ali Lewis seems determined to get as much Australian slang in there as possible, you won’t forget where the book is set, but after a while this ceased to matter.
Danny is a very strong protagonist and a typical young boy. Lewis has captured the confused nature of his emotions incredibly well and whilst he isn’t always likeable, he is an incredibly real character. Everything is told from his point of view, so the story comes out in stages, I think this did contribute to the slow start but was effective by the end. In spite of this supporting characters are also drawn very well. Lewis uses the drought at the ranch to show the state of Danny’s family. As the cracks show in the earth, so they do in the household. It is only when the family starts to heal that the rain comes too.
It won’t be my favourite off the list, I’ve already read better. But Everybody Jam is worth getting through a slow start.
Verdict: Slow to start but the effort is worth it. A moving, poignant tale of a boy coming of age and family relationships.
Reviewed by Alison