Shazaan's Reviews > Everybody Jam

Everybody Jam by Ali Lewis
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May 20, 2012

it was ok

Everybody Jam is a very different novel. It’s unique and certainly ‘broadened my horizons’. Ali Lewis has written a remarkable debut and definitely deserves to be on the shortlist.
It describes the transition of emotions in the everyday life of thirteen-year-old Danny Dawson. Living at Timber Creek Station in the Australian Outback, and certainly enduring more hardships than any other teenager I’ve known, Danny is determined to prove himself to the fellas at the annual muster.
The muster is the selection of cattle for slaughter. Various Australian slang phrases are used in the book, such as: Gin jockey, Sheila, Ute and loads more. This enhances to the effect of the location and atmosphere, yet it’s not easy to understand.
Written in first person from the perspective of Danny, it’s as if you’re there- looking over his shoulder. Danny telling the story makes it emotionally intense. He sees life in a very individual way. And he narrates the story straightforwardly, as if the point is obvious, which leaves your imagination wanting more.
“My mouth fell open as Dick’s laughter came through the radio. I lifted my hand up to my face to feel the smile I was wearing – like it suddenly belonged to someone else”
It would have been difficult to relate to Danny’s life, I think, if it was written in third person as his life is so different from an average thirteen year old’s there would have been no other way to convey his thoughts and feelings. As he isn’t exposed to the same things that some teenagers are, he tells the story from an almost innocent view.
Danny has valuable skills that undeniably benefit the station. He wants to work with the men at stock camp during the muster and hates having to study at home with his sisters. Subsequent to the death of his older brother Jonny, the family is mourning the loss in a hushed way. There’s always something stopping them from saying what’s on their mind.
“That was when Aunty Ve smiled and said it was nice to talk about Jonny. I told her no one else did and she nodded. She reckoned it was because everyone was so sad about him dying. I guess it was because no one had ever really said Jonny was dead to me before, but hearing those words made me blub. A red-hot tear burned a streak down my right cheek and then my chest heaved and I didn’t think I’d ever breathe again.”
During all this commotion, Danny must accept the loss of Jonny and move on while supporting the station like a man before going off to boarding school the next year. Building to the tension, Danny’s fourteen-year-old sister announces her pregnancy yet she does not reveal the identity of the father. The baby is due at the same time as the muster!
“When Mum and Sissy came back from the hospital they had a little black-and-white picture that was meant to be of the baby- but it was rubbish.
“Mum showed it to me and Emily. She kept pointing to where she said the baby’s head was – but I reckoned she’d got it wrong. It was just a load of black and grey blobs- there was no way that was a picture of a baby. I told her I reckoned there must have been something wrong with the camera or they’d printed it out wrong. They all laughed, but I knew dad would agree with me when he saw it.”

The genre of this novel is family drama.
Eventually, Danny’s mother admits that she cannot manage looking after Sissy as well as Emily, their younger daughter, and hires a Pommie. Liz. Liz’s first impression wasn’t that great. According to Danny, she was inexperienced and oblivious to anything from making toast to gathering cattle.
Danny gets exasperated when Liz keeps asking annoying questions, but Liz’s queries help readers to understand. They also help the Dawsons understand themselves.
The Northern territory of Australia in the dry and parched desert is a setting that grips you into the story. The ranchers worry about the rain not coming, the boreholes drying and the cattle dying while the sun glares at the scorching desert ground.
“I looked up at the sky and the sun caught on my face and made my eyes sting even more than the smoke did. I hoped Jonny was paying attention up there about getting us some rains- just because he was in heaven, it didn’t mean he couldn’t help.”
Danny’s coming of age happens as he develops relationships with people around him…well, not always people. Danny took Buzz, the orphan camel under his wing and held regular training sessions. These were particularly entertaining because watching their relationships grow to such an extent was truly heart-warming.
“I dunno what it’s like to land an aeroplane, or how it feels when you dive with sharks, but I reckon it’s probably a bit like the feeling you get when you teach a camel something new.
Being out in the desert with Buzz felt good. As I ran with him it was like my asthma was a bad dream I’d just woken up from – I could run forever”
Lewis manages to oppose many concerns such as teenage pregnancy, racism and loss as well as keeping it light and humorous at the same time, which demonstrates an excellent novelist skill. But perhaps she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish that if Danny wasn’t the narrator.
Lewis used to work as a journalist; this is shown in some of the parts of the book. The imageries that Danny puts in your mind are beautifully detailed. Everybody Jam started out as a slow paced novel that got quite dull at one point, but as I read further on the pace increased quite dramatically, with a fantastic climax.
To conclude, I think that Ali Lewis has written an incredible novel that is worthy of the Carnegie award.
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