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Ghost River

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  378 ratings  ·  67 reviews
The highly anticipated new novel from the Miles Franklin-shortlisted author of Blood ‘You find yourself down at the bottom of the river, for some it’s time to give into her. But other times, young fellas like you two, you got to fight your way back. Show the river you got courage and is ready to live.’ The river is a place of history and secrets. For Ren and Sonny, two unl ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published October 1st 2015 by University of Queensland Press
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Average rating 3.76  · 
Rating details
 ·  378 ratings  ·  67 reviews

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Michael Livingston
Feb 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Tony Birch is a goddamn treasure. He writes about a lost Melbourne - the working class inner suburbs of the 1960s and 70s - like nobody else. This feels like one of the shorts in Shadowboxing stretched out into a novel, and it zips by pretty quickly. The two young central characters are charming and feel real, and the claustrophobic neighbourhood is beautifully drawn. Ren is obsessed with photographing birds, which endeared him to me immediately and allowed Birch to draw out the partly lost beau ...more
Nick Grammos
Jul 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: australian
At certain points as I read this novel, I kept coming across characteristics of people and places I recalled as a child. That sense of what the city of Melbourne was like was all too familiar. Though our experiences are different, the place, the character of people, their values were all so vividly real. The sensation too of being young and separate from adults was captured well in this book. The treatment of outsiders like the river men, warm and engaging, looks from 2020, like a vanished part ...more
Jan 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Tony Birch is an inspired author and once again with this moving story of the friendship between two young boys, Sonny and Ren, he doesn't disappoint. Set in Melbourne sometime in the late 60's, it will resonate with many who are familiar with inner Melbourne. The backdrop to the story is the Yarra River so much an integral part of Melbourne even today. This "Ghost" river will be a place of refuge for the boys and for others and the river knows. There is a lot of raw emotion in Birch's writing a ...more
Jodie How
Nov 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Birch writes a poignant, easy-to-read Australian tale that is daringly honest, yet gripping. I could not put it down.

Two boys, closer than brothers, pioneer adventures that lead to more trouble than they bargained for.

Sonny and Ren’s story of adversary, loyalty and triumph is a fascinating and convincing read.
Sep 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Powerful coming of age/childhood boy friendship adventure river story. Nice level of tension throughout and a satisfying restrained ending. Beautiful read.
Feb 23, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: australia, fiction
Look, this is a well-told tale of Australian boyhood. Or at least it was for the first three-quarters, when the tempo moved into suspense territory for a showy finish. Birch is a masterful storyteller, with the gift to evoke a place's smell and feel, and despite my general apathy towards the boyhood genre (and, honestly, to the Yarra which I have never had positive feelings towards), I stayed engaged throughout. The book never hit me where I live, and that's ok, not all books are for all people ...more
Susie Anderson
Jul 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
now the river does not look the same
Maureen Helen
Apr 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Tony Birch is an amazing story-teller. Ghost River is a great read.

At one level, Ghost River is a coming-of-age story of two thirteen-year-old boys, introvert Ren and his more adventurous mate, Sonny. The boys live in Collingwood (an inner Melbourne suburb) in 1968. Their families are dysfunctional. Their friendship is cemented when Sonny rescues Ren from a school-yard bully. But Sonny, also, is beaten by his father and bullied by a teacher. He is expelled from school.

Factories spew toxic waste
Cass Moriarty
Nov 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
From the first pages of Tony Birch's novel Ghost River (UQP), you know you are in the hands of a masterful storyteller. Birch's language and dialogue is authentic, natural and easy, his characters are clear and real from the very start, and only become more endearing and complex as the narrative progresses, and the setting in which he immerses us is described in such vivid detail that we feel we are revisiting a place from our past.
The Ghost River of the title runs through the centre of this bo
Liz Murray
A book that kept me reading into the wee hours and wanting more. The simplicity of the prose and honest portrayals of the human spirit are the backbone of this novel. It tells the story of two boys coming of age in late 60s Melbourne. When Sonny moves into the neighbourhood he becomes fast friends with Ren, who lives in the house next door. The freedom the boys have to explore the river and to make friends with a group of homeless people living there is probably a relic of the past. They explore ...more
Jess Carlisle
Intriguing but disappointing.

This book sucked me right in with its authentic characters and setting.

Two young, adolescent boys, Ren and Sonny, become automatic best friends when Sonny moves in next door. Ren shows him the river and they spend the summer exploring all its secrets, doing what teenage boys do.

One day, they encounter a group of strange men who live under the bridge by the river. The men share stories of life and fellowship living in the margins of society.

As the novel develops, ma
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is well-written and, even though it is telling a relatively straightforward story, is quite an engrossing read. It is a strongly plot driven story, but Birch deftly handles a range of interesting themes centred around the friendship and adventures of two teenage boys, their close relationship with a group of old Aboriginal men, and the grim realities of impoverished city life, complete with gangsters and crooked cops, in Melbourne in the 60's. While there is much about the story that c ...more
Jan 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Ghost River is the tale of two boys, Sonny and Ren, who become the best of mates, thick as thieves when Sonny moves into the same street as Ren. Sonny seems to court trouble, Ren is the quieter, more introspective of the pair.
Set in Melbourne in the late 1960's, we learn about the river men that the boys befriend, the ghost river and her secrets, and the choices that we make that can irrevocably change lives forever.
If you enjoy Tim Winton, Tony Birch's Ghost Riv
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This book is a beautifully constructed journey and coming of age story. I felt completely drawn in by the characters of Ren and Sonny who were loyal, mischievous, compassionate and courageous in equal measure. Birch has skilfully woven the river, through all its seasons, through this narrative in a way that creates a truly Australian sense of place. The river was a sensory and nostalgic experience, a snap shot of Australian life. I also really enjoyed the 'river men' and the special way Birch de ...more
David Fonteyn
Apr 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
From the prominent Indigenous Australian author, Tony Birch, Ghost River is largely a novel of place - essentially Melbourne's Yarra River - weaving stories together that build a mythology around the wildness and natural wonder that rivers bring to urban landscapes and city life. Set in the 1960s in Collingwood, a poor part of town prior to gentrification, the story centres appropriately around two children, Sonny and Ren, whose freewheeling adventures on the river near their house form the basi ...more
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it

"The truth is, all of us will be forgotten one day. Unless we do something special"

I know nothing about Tony Birch or Melbourne so I didn't know what to expect from this book. What I surely didn't expect was to get so attached to the main characters and thoroughly enjoy the plot of the book. But that's exactly what happened.

Which is honestly surprising because I'm more of a plot-driven person rather than a character-driven reader. But from the way that the neighborhood is described, I co
Mar 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Ghost River means many things. Set in Collingwood, Melbourne but a time not stated. It is heavily implied by events and description as is post-war, probably the 1960s. Times are tough for two boys, Ren and Sonny who find escape in the local river (which is probably the Yarra). Hidden away from the world around them they swim and dive spending time together. One day they make friends with a group of homeless men.

Friendships, belonging, a sense of place (and place lost)and coming of age. Underlyi
Dec 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Sensitive, honest Australian story with characters usually left out of popular, mainstream fiction, tendered with an expert and unjudgmental touch. All characters are richly and skilfully drawn, managing to leave questions without seeming unfinished, life as a continuum where not everything needs all background or outcome provided - things alluded to briefly to explain a behaviour but no full story provided, because it is not needed yet sufficient that curiousity remains. The depiction of the ri ...more
Aug 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book, about friendship and life in inner city Melbourne before freeways. Ren and Sonny become good friends when Sonny and his Dad move in next door. They spend most of their free time down by the river discovering it’s history and it’s secrets. They meet a group of vagrants who have set up camp under the bridge and they enjoy all the stories they have to tell. Then one day they meet a couple of surveyors working down by the river, a freeway is going to be built and the river ...more
zara may
May 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
As always, Tony Birch's writing is so vivid and evocative in this understated way that I love. I didn't think this book was as seamless as some of his other work, it took a bit longer for me to get into the storyline, but once I did it was so captivating. His writing about the river is truly something - I love the Yarra/Birrarung and I love hearing stories about what it means to others. This book is set in all these places I'm familiar with, and makes me miss Melbourne so much. ...more
Beau Reilly
Feb 20, 2021 rated it liked it
I quite enjoyed this book, warming to the two boys who become friends and being into all sorts of adventure... & trouble! It had me laughing a few times and captured the Australiana feel with the lingo and odd buy of swearing. I was really wondering how the book would finish but thought the ending was good.
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An all time favourite. Up there with Jasper Jones, The Messenger and Runner. Inner city kids up to adventures along the Yarra. Lots of memories from my childhood. So glad I found this one but should have savored it rather than reading in two days.
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Page turning tales of young lads getting up to mischief and looking out for each other on the banks of the Yarra river, when it was just a river.
Local Melbourne writer Tony Birch has captured my attention.
Thanks to Jack & Al for leading me to this.
Anna Davidson
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2019
A stunning story of working class Melbourne in the 1960s with the Yarra as a central character. This is an engaging, easy to read story with beautifully written characters; I was so invested in each of their stories, I couldn’t put the book down. Tony Birch is definitely a new favourite author.
Alan  Marr
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a delightful rites of passage tale about 2 boys in Collingwood in the late 60s. There are endearing characters at every turn and not so endearing characters at nearly every turn but the boys shine.
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Slow and meandering, and then all of a sudden you're sucked under - a bit like the river. What a great book. ...more
Lee Crossley
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Didn't love it but it was interesting enough. The relationship between the two boys and with the river was particularly well done. ...more
Leon Lefonque
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not a bad book. What stops it being great is the simplification of some of the characters which are a little one dimensional. Still worth a read.
Zuzu Burford
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Along with The Cartographer, Jasper Jones comes another tale concerning young adolescence. An engaging pair that learn lives lessons from an assorted bunch of characters.
Nov 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Sonny and Ren's friendship is the tie that binds this story and it is what makes this a very endearing read. Both characters will be remembered. ...more
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Melbourne Library...: Melbourne Book Club - July 2 13 Aug 04, 2016 04:28AM  

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Tony Birch is the author of Ghost River, which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing and Blood, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. He is also the author of Shadowboxing and three short story collections, Father’s Day, The Promise and Common People. In 2017 he was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award. Tony is a frequent contributor to ABC local and n ...more

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