Battling drought on their remote Australian cattle station, Danny Dawson’s once–close-knit family, already torn apart by older brother Jonny’s accidental death six months ago, learns that older sister Sissy, 14, is pregnant; Liz, the English backpacker hired on short notice as household help, will prove the catalyst for needed change.
Danny, 13 and asthmatic, won’t let his mother touch Jonny’s side of their room. He’s even more isolated now, since Sissy has withdrawn; their younger sister, Emily, is only 7. Liz is clueless—she knows nothing about animals and can’t even cook (plus, she’s vegetarian). Danny’s contempt softens when Liz shows a dogged, good-humored willingness to learn and persuades him to talk about Jonny. The baby camel Danny raises also promotes healing. But the approaching annual cattle muster coincides with new shocks that threaten to upend his family all over again. First published in the U.K. and shortlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal, this debut is peppered with Australian slang (context makes most meanings clear). It offers an exceptionally vivid picture of a fascinating world foreign to most American readers alongside issues mostly avoided in U.S. children’s fiction—early teen pregnancy, virulent racism, and animal husbandry specifics, none of it airbrushed. Immensely likable and utterly convincing, Danny will have readers hoping for the future just as hard as he is.
More middle-grade than teen, mature themes notwithstanding, highly recommended for boys and adventurous readers of all ages. (Fiction. 12 & up)