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Boy Swallows Universe

4.39  ·  Rating details ·  44,345 ratings  ·  4,373 reviews
An utterly wonderful debut novel of love, crime, magic, fate and a boy’s coming of age, set in 1980s Australia and infused with the originality, charm, pathos, and heart of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The mind can take you anywhere you want to go

Eli Bell’s life is complicated. His father is lost, his mother is i
Paperback, 464 pages
Published April 7th 2020 by Harper Perennial (first published June 18th 2018)
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Raven Gray Well, I'm thirteen and I read it recently. I quite liked it and found I was able to understand it. However, drug and substance abuse, gory, detailed v…moreWell, I'm thirteen and I read it recently. I quite liked it and found I was able to understand it. However, drug and substance abuse, gory, detailed violence (some domestic as well), sexual references, coarse language (almost constant use of f*ck), and a criminal theme may render it inappropriate for readers my age, depending on how mature they are, and what kind of themes they have been exposed to already (through movies or other books). (less)
Peter After listening to this interview, I'd say the answer is unequivocally "yes":
That said, Eli does comment that…more
After listening to this interview, I'd say the answer is unequivocally "yes":
That said, Eli does comment that the ability to bullshit is essential to a writer, so where fact ends and fiction begins is impossible to know. Amazing as it may sound, though, the red telephone and its location are/were real, apparently.(less)
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What an amazing debut novel! Boy Swallows Universe has jumped straight to the top of my outstanding novels for this year. Trent Dalton has somehow managed to spin a yarn about a Brisbane boy growing up amidst poverty, violence and crime while infusing it with love, joy and humour. His words and characters leap off the page with freshness and originality and yet you feel you know these people and the streets they live on. Although not autobiographical, the novel is based on Dalton’s own childhood ...more
Kylie D
Well, what can I say, but Trent Dalton, you have left me speechless! I've had Boy Swallows Universe on my shelf for several months now, not wanting to pick it up, afraid it wouldn't live up to the hype. It lives up to it, and more!

It's the coming of age tale of Eli, growing up in Brisbane's western suburbs, raised by drug dealers. We follow Eli and his brother August, through all the bad things life could throw at them, yet there are a lot of positives in their lives too. Living in Brisbane I'm
Angela M
Mar 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

“The key characters all draw on the people I love most in the world. The most beautiful and complex people I’ve ever known, and I never even had to walk out the door of my house to find them. I just wanted to give the world a story. To turn all these crazy and sad and tragic and beautiful things I’ve seen into a crazy, sad, tragic and beautiful story.” (Trent Dalton from an article by Dalton on why her wrote this book: ).

I read the above article after I
“Lyle says he approaches a drug deal in the same way he approaches Mum when she’s in a bad mood. Stay on your toes. Stay alert. Don’t let them stand too close to the kitchen knives. Be flexible, patient, adaptable. The buyer/angry Mum is always right.”

Oliver Twist meets The Godfather. Those were the first books that came to mind. Films and TV that came to mind were Breaking Bad, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Sopranos, and possibly a bit of Stephen King. But it’s 100% Trent Dalton, and what
Apr 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: edelweiss, 2019, ya-books
Boy Swallows Universe is a coming of age story like no other. Dalton's beautiful prose, compelling characters and emotionally tragic story was tinged with mystical elements that gave the book an almost otherworldly feel.

Eli and August are brothers being raised amongst drugs, violence and poverty. Yet amidst all these dangers these boys have such a special bond and connection, helping each other through heartache and tragedy. Eli is the story's central character and his life is anything but easy.
I had to push myself to finish this novel. This much-lauded, hyped novel. I even went to see the author speak to a packed room at the Perth Writers' Festival, so I was somewhat invested.

I won't go into too many details about the plot.

Boy Swallows Universe is a coming of age novel, about Eli Bell, who is brought up in a rough part of Brisbane, by his drug peddling and occasional user mum, and her boyfriend, Lyle.

This novel has a very distinct Australian feel to it, it almost feels put on, althou
Larry H
Apr 22, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Eli is growing up in a small Australian suburb in the 1980s. His mother is a junkie and in jail, his father is nowhere to be found, his stepfather is a drug dealer, and his older brother, August, is a mute genius. The only adult in his life is Slim, a former prisoner who holds the record for the most escapes.

"I truly love Slim because he truly loves August and me. Slim was hard and cold in his youth. He's softened with age. Slim always cares for August and me and how we're going and how we're go
Dec 09, 2018 marked it as maybe  ·  review of another edition
At first, this sounded like another harmful story about the exploitation of a minor by an adult, but I was repeatedly told that this is not the case with this book. On the other hand, people keep finding excuses to defend these so-called romances. I have seen it so many times in so many books. And I am so tired of it. So I will read this book and hope it won't disappoint. ...more
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Why I wrote ‘Boy Swallows Universe’

About three summers ago on a blazing hot Boxing Day in South-east Queensland I was standing at the back of a small blue Holden Barina with my mum. The boot hatchback door was up and I was helping my mum load a bunch of Christmas gifts and cooking equipment into her car. We’d all just enjoyed a good family catch-up in a shared Bribie Island holiday unit, one of those nice peaceful Christmases where nobody argues about who was supposed to make the coleslaw, an
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So many good things about this book!!!

* The totally perfect cover. Not only the gorgeous colours but also its appropriateness to the story.

* The writing. Trent Dalton is a master of beautiful prose.

* The characters. I loved Eli and Gus and their solid and completely understanding relationship.

* The story itself which was horrific and mystical by turns and always totally absorbing.

* The ending which although a little far fetched was also satisfying.

For me it was slightly spoilt by too much inform
Chelsea Humphrey
Pleased to announce that this is the #scaredsuspensebookclub choice for April! Below is the discussion schedule via instagram; follow along and join in with the conversation @scaredsuspensebookclub.

Check-In #1: April 12th
Check-In #2: April 19th

*Many thanks to the publisher for providing my review copy.

You got me.

I was really excited to read this hyped book, but when I read the first few pages I was devastated. I was convinced it wasn't going to be my kind of book at all - it was such a drain to follow what was being said. The disappointment was real.

I put it down after seven pages and it's taken me another three months or so to get back to it. Now, here I am to confess: I was wrong. I smashed through it in two days.

Straight up? The writing style is absolutely not my thing at all. It's cr
Mar 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: digital, edelweiss
For a book with so much violence, drug dealing, prison life, and sadness, it was also magical. The story concerns the life of Eli and Gus, brothers who are deemed special by their mother and others that know them. Gus is mute but can communicate with Eli by writing words in the air or by not saying anything at all. Gus's talents lie in art, in his paintings. Eli's talents lie in words, written and spoken, colorful and detailed stories that go past mere facts and tell everything about everybody. ...more
Kylie Minogue, Joseph Conrad, the fascist state that was Queensland and how I came to realise that the star rating system may not be appropriate for this book. Part three.

A great Brisbane Novel? Maybe but again the rating of stars seems a bit pointless as this being a book about my home town, and the third Brisbane novel I have read in recent times, I have now given all three the maximum rating. The reality is that that is my rating because I related to them for obvious reasons. Many may not. Th
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, arc, australian, buzz
Boy Swallows Universe is the big buzz in Australian books right now. It’s going to sell itself, as all of the pull quotes and window displays tell us. First it’s about one thing, then it’s about another, then you turn the page and years have passed, but one thing is certain: Boy Swallows Universe is an Australian novel that is at least in part about children who have to fend for themselves in the face of their parental figures’ involvement in drugs. We certainly haven’t published one of those be ...more
Sharon Metcalf
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, 2018
To say I was excited to discover a novel by Trent Dalton is a massive understatement.   Boy Swallows Universe is his debut novel but I've adored the authors writing for years.  He's an award winning journalist and I cannot get enough of the way he tells a story, the compassion in his words and the way I feel I know the people he writes about.     And so it was with the characters he brought to life in this novel.     

Eli Bell our protagonist is a young boy in Brisbane in the early 80's.  His ol
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya, fiction
Extraordinary coming of age story that stole my heart! ❤

Eli is 12 years old when we meet him for the first time. He has an older brother August who doesn't speak and communicates by drawing words in the air. Eli and Gus live with their mum and her partner who both deal drugs. Eli and Gus spent most of their time with their babysitter Slim Halliday, a convicted murderer who escaped from prison. Sounds pretty crazy, right? What makes it even more crazy is the fact that the story is inspired by the
Twelve year old Eli Bell has had a rough life, his mother is a drug addict and in jail, his father can’t be found and his stepfather is a drug dealer and he has a mute brother. Eli’s home life isn’t great to say the least, but he is doing the best he can to grow into a respectable young man, but it seems the odds are against him.

Being surrounded by violence, drugs and crime on a daily basis, Eli’s future is looking somewhat bleak. Can Eli make a safer life for himself and turn his life around a
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


4.5 Stars.

The highest praise I can give this novel is that at times I thought it was written by one of my very favourite authors, Tim Winton. Three Quarters of the way through this book I was ready to declare this my favourite read of the year. It has this great Winton feel to it. It has that great Aussie style of language and slang. It has characters to die for. Slim, feels like a Winton creation. The only gripe I have with the novel
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

Boy Swallows Universe was already on my TBR for receiving a bunch of accolades when it came out from various sources which I can’t remember because my brain is made of Swiss cheese. And more importantly because I thought it was a Young Adult novel (Apparently it isn’t??? I still argue it is) that was written by an Australian and I’ve had pretty good luck with the Aussie YA novelists in the past. Then a friend of a friend recommended it

Finally finished a book in 2019 and it really was the perfect summer holiday read for me. This debut novel by Queensland journalist Trent Dalton is a rather fun romp through 80s Brisbane. The pages practically ooze Ocker. Men are clad in short stubbies, pale singlets, and rubber thongs, they drink cans of XXXX, chomp on Coon sandwiches while saying things like "strewth mate, did you see those Parramatta eels go ?". It is just that kind of book. Is it overdone ?, yes it probably is. Enjoymen
DNF @ 40%. The writing was good, but the subject matter is just too depressing for me to invest any more of my valuable time. I will leave this unrated as the book was just not my cup of tea.
4.5 Stars

”If dreams were thunder
And lightning was desire
This old house would've burned down
A long time ago.

“Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.”

-- Angel From Montgomery, Bonnie Raitt & John Prine, Songwriters: John Prine

”I can see my brother, August, through the crack in the windscreen. He sits on our brown brick fence writing his life story in fluid cursive with his right forefinger, etching words into thin air.

Boy writes on air.

Amanda - Mrs B's Book Reviews
2.5 stars
Boy Swallows Universe, by debut author Trent Dalton is 2018 publication from Fourth Estate, an imprint of major Australian publisher Harper Collins. It was released to critical and popular acclaim, earning a place on bestseller lists and book clubs across the country. It has also been a permanent fixture on the social media circuit, which is where my interest was first sparked in this novel. Inspired by the real life events experienced by the author
Andy Marr
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't usually like mystery novels. I'm not usually interested in crime. Usually, I switch off as soon as I read about drug gangs and baddies and deadbeats and psychos. I hate those stories, usually. Usually, they suck.

But this book?

Good God. This book was awesome.
Jaclyn Crupi
2.5 Another addition to the boy coming-of-age gritty Australian crime and criminal-populated genre. Think Jasper Jones, Breath, Wimmera. Dalton renders a distinct voice for young Eli which might have drawn me in had I not found the writing and plot affected and overdone, especially in the ‘Aussie-ness’ of it all. A lot of readers will enjoy this book I think and I’ll certainly be in the minority but as soon as I sense a falseness in fiction I am taken out of the narrative and all I see are the l ...more
John Purcell
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has a big heart. But it isn't Tuesdays with Morrie. Imagine if the kid from the Wonder Years, Kevin Arnold, walked into an episode of Underbelly, that's what it's like. Heart with a kick. And it does have quite a kick when it gets going. You'll know what I mean when you reach that bit... Oh boy. And to think, Boy Swallows Universe is almost a true story.

Loved this book. Get a copy.
My reading experience is always so much better when I have experienced first-hand the settings described in a book. In this instance it is the suburbs of Brisbane that came to life, specifically the lakeside suburb of Sandgate. Noted for its ‘nursing homes and fish and chips’ and a lot of talk about the railway station, I could put my 13-year-old self into the scene due to my frequent trips to my Aunty, Uncle and cousins. It was great hearing so many suburbs come to life, as many suburbs were me ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Boy Swallows Universe is about Eli Bell, a boy growing up in the poorer outskirts of Brisbane, Australia. I was interested in it because I spent a month in the suburbs of Brisbane in 1994 and thought I might find familiar landscape.

At first it seems like maybe this is a typical coming of age novel, until you realize Eli's brother only speaks by drawing words with his finger, and that the parental figures the brothers live with (Mom and boyfriend) deal heroin. At that point the novel takes a turn
Lea Davey
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
WOW!!! Was it just because I was born in Brisbane and have always lived nearby, or is this book simply the most clever, entertaining, emotional, funny, outstanding and amazing novel that I have read in a long time! I absolutely loved the familiarity of the places, but even more, the harrowing, rollercoaster tale of a young man called Eli who grows up in a severely dysfunctional family.

The story reveals the sinister, criminal and dangerous side of life that takes place almost around the kitchen
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Trent Dalton writes for the award-winning The Weekend Australian Magazine. A former assistant editor of The Courier-Mail, he has won a Walkley, been a four-time winner of the national News Awards Feature Journalist of the Year Award, and was named Queensland Journalist of the Year at the 2011 Clarion Awards for excellence in Queensland media. His writing includes several short and feature-length f ...more

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