Tuesday, July 5, 2011
The Piper's Son by Melina Marchetta
2010; Penguin Australia/Viking
Melina Marchetta's brilliant, heart-wrenching new novel takes up the story of the group of friends from her best-selling, much-loved book Saving Francesca - only this time it's five years later and Thomas Mackee is the one who needs saving.
Thomas Mackee wants oblivion. Wants to forget parents who leave and friends he used to care about and a string of one-night stands, and favourite uncles being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.
But when his flatmates turn him out of the house, Tom moves in with his single, pregnant aunt, Georgie. And starts working at the Union pub with his former friends. And winds up living with his grieving father again. And remembers how he abandoned Tara Finke two years ago, after his uncle's death.
And in a year when everything's broken, Tom realises that his family and friends need him to help put the pieces back together as much as he needs them. (courtesy of Goodreads)
Melina Marchetta is one of the most talented writers out there today. It's unfortunate her books are labeled YA, because most people miss out on her wonderfulness. But for those of us who are smart enough to read YA whether or not we're teens, we are privileged to have a truly special author in our midsts.
The Piper's Son would flop in the hands of most authors. Tom Mackee is grieving the death of his uncle Joe who died two years ago in a terrorist attack in London. He abandoned his friends, quit school, and spent most of his time drinking, doing drugs, having one-night-stands, and hanging with his loser roommates. His family isn't much better. His father is in the throes of alcoholism and Tom's mother left with his little sister. Tom's aunt Georgie is pregnant by her long-time boyfriend who she can't forgive for fathering someone else's child when they briefly broke up, but can't stay away from either. When Tom hits rock bottom, he moves in with his aunt, and they all try - not to recover necessarily - but to live.
There's a lot going on in the history of the characters, but really not a lot going on with the plot. The book is about the love and pain of a close family and the camaraderie and anger of friends. We are re-introduced to most of the characters from Saving Francesca. I loved seeing how strong and vibrant Francesca is when she isn't depressed. She is the thread that holds everyone together. We also see Justine and Tara. I missed Jimmy - he was only briefly mentioned.
Dialogue is Marchetta's specialty. It's the reason the books are enjoyable even if nothing is happening. The characters are uniformly witty and smart. Or if angry, quick to come up with a biting remark that leaves your stomach in knots. Or if in love, they have the sweetest, most insightful, passionate comments: "A thousand times yes" (makes sense if you've read the book). I could read The Piper's Son a dozen times and come up with a different quote each time that causes me to pause and think.
I love how nothing is simple in this book. There is no enemy to fight. No easy solution that will make the characters happy. Rather, it is a slow process of healing in which they have to depend on each other.
Tom's family is wonderful. Highly dysfunctional, but you can sense the love between them. It's so rare to read about really close families in YA. Nothing is more important to Tom than his family. The book is told both from Tom and Georgie's perspectives. The switch is a bit confusing at times, but I got used to it. It was fascinating and sad to see how one person's death could tear apart a family in so many different ways.
The Piper's Son even has a shout-out to Jellicoe Road. It's easy to miss, but a fun tribute. The Piper's Son is not as complex or beautiful as Jellicoe Road and as wonderful as Tom is, he's not Jonah Griggs. However, it is an approachable novel much like Saving Francesca. As trite as it sounds...you really will laugh, cry, rejoice, rage, despair, and smile. Marchetta makes emotions leap off the page with the simple yet beautiful prose.
Rating: 4.5 / 5