Blood by Tony Birch
Published: 2011 by University of Queensland Press
Pages: 264 pages (paperback)
Source: Own library
From the moment he saw her wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister. When their mother's appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real. But Jesse is just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger from which he has sworn to protect Rachel. As their little world is torn to pieces, the children learn that when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what's in your blood.
When I was in Australia earlier this year, I specifically tried to hunt down a few books by Australian authors and Blood was one of the first that caught my eye. It's been a long time since I read a contemporary novel set in Australia, and I was intrigued by the synopsis, especially Blood is about the relationship between a brother and sister - something that always grabs my attention.
Jesse and Rachel are brother and sister that are bound together by both genetics and their reliance on each other. Their mother, Gwen, is really a deadbeat - her boyfriends, her inability to stay settled in one place and to think about what is best for her children makes her a pretty unlikable character - although her own childhood was difficult it didn't really make me feel sympathetic towards her. She's frustrating, naive and very immature - and whenever the kids feel a little settled and comfortable she uproots them again and again, putting her own needs above theirs.
But the focus of Blood is really that of the sibling relationship - Jesse has cared for Rachel since she was born and although they don't always see eye to eye, he protects her, feeds her and tries to make sure that Rachel doesn't know in great detail about what her mother really gets up to. It's a complicated but pure relationship - Birch depicts the depth of their relationship without being overly poetic or dramatic, but by showing just how much they care for each other in their day-to-day interactions.
Blood really describes the essence of Australia - a beautifully stark, demanding landscape juxtaposed with the warmth and openness of Australian people really evokes the true feeling of Australia.
The only issue I had was the ending....well, actually the beginning. The first chapter of Blood is actually the epilogue, and for me it just didn't logically fit with the actual ending at the back of the book - I couldn't reconcile the two scenes in my mind and although I re-read the first chapter I still didn't find it believable.
Despite that one issue, I was completely sucked into this book. I was so glad I decided to read an Australian author, and Blood is an intense, sad, moving and emotional book about the relationship between a brother and sister.