The Story of Tom Brennan by J. C. Burke (Random House, 2005)
The first time I read this book was in late 2005. A colleague had picked it up in a book shop and thought it was a book that would really connect with our students. At the time, however, we didn’t buy it. Then, in 2008 it appeared on the HSC Prescriptions list for Standard English for 2009 – 2012 (since extended to 2014) and we both argued strongly to include it in our program for the following year. We won the argument and several class sets were purchased.
In January 2009 I read it a second time, in preparation for teaching it. I filled my copy with post-it notes and scribbles in the margins. I had so much to say to my students about this book.
The following year I taught Advanced and in 2011 I taught this book again, in the English Studies module “Playing the Game – English in the world of Sport”.
And now, in 2013, I will teach it twice… right now with my year 12 Standard class, and next term, with my year 11 English Studies class. It seemed like a good idea to read it again, fresh, with a copy unadorned with notes and post-its.
This is a powerful book. It speaks of so many things relevant to my students. It offers just as much for the Standard Module C elective of Into the World as it does for the English Studies module. Tom is a normal boy who has had his life turned upside down by the consequences of the choices of others. He is lost and confused and hurt and bereft, but he is doing his best to make sense of what has happened. He tells his story with humour and honesty and it is an engaging read.
I’ve written about J. C. Burke before. She is an author who destroys my conviction that writers, when using first person, need to stick to their own gender. She is also an author who I assume made a conscious decision to be gender neutral through the use of her initials. Perhaps she knows my opinion is a common one? I know that the first time I read the book I didn’t know she was female. I will never know if it might have made a difference if I had known before hand, but both times I have taught it the discussions around gender have been very interesting.
So, in this latest reading of the book it was nice to re-acquaint myself with Tom without the interference of my previous responses. I made a few notes, but mostly I just enjoyed the story. Once I was finished, I compared my notes with my post-it note copy of the book. Some new ideas have emerged which is exciting for me and will mean a new enthusiasm when I talk with my students.
Again, this is an Australian author telling a simple story. It is a story of characters and choices and it ends with an offer of hope… of a future beyond the book for the characters that leaves me positive. This is all I ask of a book.
It was my intention to return to Eureka by Peter Fitzsimons, which is half-read but neglected as I put it aside in favour of revisiting Tom. However, today I have been presented with two books that two of my closest friends cannot stop raving about and couldn’t put down. Tonight I must make a choice about what to read next… All 3 books are HUGE, so whichever one wins, it will be a while before my next blog, I suspect.