Title: To Become a Whale
Author: Ben Hobson
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Release Date: June 2017
Rating: 5 Stars
I was lucky enough to be gifted an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the publisher.
13 year old Sams mother has died. His father, who was previously away for long stretches and prone to spells of taciturnity, decides to take his son out to the whaling station he works at and toughen him up. Make a man out of the boy. Both are dealing with the loss of Sams mother. Both are trying to traverse this difficult melding of father and son.
It is partly a story about the process of grief, partly a father and son bonding tale, partly a coming of age narrative. Blended all together this is a dramatic literary debut that is set to be an Australian classic.
The story is set in the 60’s near Noosa and Moreton Bay in Queensland. It feels entirely authentic. The struggle for sweet gentle Sam to make himself feel part of the world of men in all its brutality feels genuine. I was unsure as to the boys motivation when he set out on his own, but it resonates well within the broader story. I was worried where it was going there for a while right near the end, but I have to admit I was very happy with the conclusion.
I loved the complex dynamics between the characters. I would like to have known more about the relationship with the grandparents. But overall the story had a realness to it that had me swept up in the tale until the end. A fantastic debut and a great piece of Australian literature.