An Aussie “Top Book of 2015” Read-it-if Review: The Beauty is in the Walking…

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Welcome to another Read-it-if Review, this time with an Aussie book by a veteran Aussie author that deals with disability, diversity and big decisions. I gratefully received a copy of The Beauty is in the Walking by James Moloney from Harper Collins Australia for review. Understated and thoroughly likeable, I have placed this story on the pedestal labelled “Top Books of 2015”. Said pedestal is starting to fill up nicely; this is the fifth book upon which I have bestowed this illustrious title.

Anyway, great books don’t review themselves (or I’m out of a job!) so let’s get on. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Everyone thinks they know what Jacob O’Leary can and can’t do – and they’re not shy about telling him either. But no one – not even Jacob – knows what he’s truly capable of. And he’s desperate for the chance to work it out for himself. When a shocking and mystifying crime sends his small country town reeling, and fingers start pointing at the newcomer, Jacob grabs the chance to get out in front of the pack and keep mob rule at bay. He’s convinced that the police have accused the wrong guy; that the real villain is still out there. And he’s determined to prove it – and himself – to everyone.

beauty in the walking

Read it if:

*you’ve ever been outshone by a better looking/more talented/ (insert superlative here) sibling, friend, school mate or passer-by

*you have ever had a teacher that you simultaneously admire and want to punch in the face

*you’re looking for some YA that has thought-provoking content, promotes diversity and steers away from the overused storylines that populate bookstore shelves for this age group

*you secretly want to be thought of as a righter of wrongs, a champion of justice and generally someone who can speak publicly without fear of dribbling.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is something about books by Australian writers, set in Australia that ooze familiarity and comfort. From the moment I took in the exquisite cover of The Beauty is in the Walking, to the first few laid-back chapters, I knew I would be in for an immersive and understated tale of growth and change.

The best thing about this book is that it is unexpected in many ways.

*Please note that I am about to ruin some of that unexpectedness so if you would like to discover the unexpectedness for yourself, you should probably skip the next two paragraphs*

After reading the blurb, I thought I knew generally what this book would be like, but I was unprepared for a main character with Cerebral Palsy (CP), and a resultant mobility impairment. It’s obvious from the beginning that there is something different about Jacob, but the actual naming of his disability doesn’t come straight away, allowing the reader to meet him as he is, rather than having a preconception of what he might be like, based on a label. I feel that Moloney has done an excellent and realistic job of creating a character with a medical condition that imposes certain limitations on how that character moves through the world.

Being that I sit on the shelf of a fleshling with a similar mobility impairment (although not CP) I was surprised at how Moloney has so authentically incorporated this aspect of Jacob’s life into the story. Sometimes the impairment is right at the forefront – embarrassing, painful and inconvenient – and sometimes it’s part of the scenery, unworthy of notice or mention. Similarly, the different reactions of various people to Jacob’s disability run the gamut from overcompensation to celebration. This was part of what made the book feel realistic and it’s no wonder I was drawn in so deeply to Jacob’s quest to break out of the bonds of expectation.

*Alright skippers, you can start reading again now!*

When a number of animals around country Palmerston are killed in vicious attacks, the flimsiest of evidence points toward newcomer to the town, Mahmoud Rais, a Muslim student whose father has taken over the supervision of halal preparation at the local meatworks. Jacob doesn’t fully understand his motivation for doing so, but immediately leaps to Mahmoud’s defence as he is chased by an angry mob of kids. As the town grows more and more convinced that Mahmoud is the guilty party, and the local press and police seem to be encouraging that conviction, Jacob faces a choice about whether it’s worth protesting Mahmoud’s innocence.

Partway through the book I began to worry that this was going to become a clunky sort of declaration of the dangers of leaping to conclusions, with two-dimensional Islamic characters and a cursory diatribe against kneejerk prejudice. Of course, I should have known better and trusted in the talents of Moloney as an experienced writer, because the direction that the story takes could not be further from what I have described.

Instead of attempting to defy stereotyping of a minority by creating characters that would end up being a very small sample of the minority being stereotyped, Moloney has focused the story on Jacob and his thought processes as the events of the investigation are played out. The reactions of others – his parents, schoolmates and teacher – are presented for Jacob to navigate and the pr0s and cons of voicing one’s platform on social media are also explored.

The thing I enjoyed most about this story though, was the fact that the events are presented in the context of Jacob’s final year of school and the decisions that he has to make about his future, both in terms of what he wants to do and who he wants to be. Along the way the story touches on first love, bullying and discrimination, challenging authority and trust – in others and oneself.

If you are looking for an engrossing, surprising and authentically told story – whether you are a reader of YA or otherwise – allow me to suggest The Beauty is in the Walking as a worthy choice, featuring a young male protagonist with an original voice and content that is both topical and perennial.

Until next time,

Bruce

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