The arrival of two wealthy boys to a working-class neighborhood brings the strained intensity present in both theirs and another home to a boil in this latest from Hartnett, first published in 2014 for adults in her native Australia.
Twelve-year-old Colt and 10-year-old Bastian are showered with the newest and best of everything by their dentist father, but his generosity is laced with a poisonous solicitude, and he eventually causes strife among their new neighbors. At the same time, 12-year-old Freya is the oldest in a large family and is resentful of her cramped, meager circumstances. She's recently begun to realize her parents' marriage is deeply troubled and struggles to find support in coping with her father's alcoholism and violence. Hartnett sets this tale in an unspecified time before mobile phones and computers, the neighborhood evidently largely white. The language is mesmerizing, her phrases exquisitely crafted, particularly when describing rot and waste, where they take on an almost gothic style: "It's an unlovely, ramshackle place, thrumming with insects, thorny with blackberry and thistle." The menacing dynamics present in so many of the relationships are persistently disquieting but also authentic, and a tone of dread pervades, though in the end, events are understated.
Sophisticated teen readers will be wowed by this gorgeous, tension-filled novel, but its more natural audience may be adults. (Fiction. 13 & up)