Tarpin’. It’s where you sneak up onto the back of someone’s ute, lie quietly under the tarp, and go for a ride to who-knows-where. It’s a test of courage. It’s about becoming a man. It can go horribly wrong.

Sue McPherson’s Brontide is a bold story that charts the conversations between a fictional ‘Sue’, who’s been asked to help with a storytelling workshop at a QLD high school, and four boys between the ages of 12 and 17.

It’s set out like a play and one could imagine a rich stage adaptation, as the boys spin tales of their fears, their prejudices and their hopes. Brontide goes to unexpected places, it asks hard questions.

Take Benny, a young Aboriginal boy who loves fishing for flatheads and who lives with his nan. Benny’s nan’s white; she’s fostered him. She tells deadly jokes, doesn’t like wearing shoes and has a beer every afternoon at four-thirty.

He loves her.

But he wonders if this is right. ‘People said it’s wrong … They said I should live with a black foster nan.’

When he mentions this to Sue—who in actual life is an adoptee and a proud Wiradjuri, Torres Strait Island and Irish woman—she observes, ‘Love is … more brilliant … And more powerful than the colour of our skin.’

Jack’s questioning his identity too. He’s a white kid who’s been adopted by an Aboriginal family. ‘All those do-gooders who think blackfullas aren’t good enough to look after their own kids, well, there’s their curve ball. My blackfulla family had to look after us white kids too.’

Jack’s also burning with a cynical hurt, stemming from the inability to protect the ones he loves. Take this reflection, on his gran’s relationship with his grandad:

She’s the best gran ever. She doesn’t even get the shits with grandad. That old bastard pissed off and left us, you see. Too busy chasin’ some uppity old bitch with a pacemaker, perky titties and a bank account full of holidays and botox. And good riddance to the knobby-kneed bastard. Hope he gets piles on his piles …

All four boys are unsparing in their judgements. They’re righteous, demanding and they’re tackling some giant issues on their paths to becoming full-grown men. This is a fantastic book—providing a springboard into so many conversations relevant to young adults—conversations about family, belonging, racism and risk-taking.

Author Sue McPherson won the inaugural [email protected]! Indigenous Writing Fellowship from the State Library of Queensland (2011) for her manuscript Grace Beside Me, which was published by Magabala Books in 2012. Brontide is a Magabala Books’ release and is available for purchase online at www.magabala.com or at any good bookshop.

By Madelaine Dickie