Author: Colin Dray
Published: January 24th 2018
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Australian, Literary
Rating: 4.5 stars
Sometimes even the best intentions can lead you down a very dangerous road.A captivating novel full of strength, quiet courage and the struggle to overcome silence.
Sam is a young boy recovering from an operation that has left him unable to speak ever again. He lives with his mother and sister Katie, all dutifully cared for by Aunt Dettie, their father’s sister, who believes herself sympathetic to his pain.
Their father abandoned the family some time ago, but when their mother begins to date again, Aunt Dettie reacts very badly.
After an unexpected phone call, Aunt Dettie packs Sam and Katie into the backseat of her car and tells them that she’s taking them to Perth to be reunited with their father.
As Dettie drives the children across Australia in the middle of a sweltering and dangerous bushfire season, her behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, and the children begin to realise that there is something very wrong.
Voiceless, Sam can only watch helplessly as the family trip becomes a smoke-filled nightmare.
One of Australia’s roll call of honour in the literature field is the coveted Australian/Vogel Literary Award. In 2015, Colin Dray’s debut novel, Sign, was shortlisted. It has since made the path to publication and it is an assured one at that. Sign is an arresting novel that is filled with moments of heroism, personal strength and determination. It is about finding your way and fighting the bonds of family.
Sign is the incredible and moving story of a young boy named Sam. This amazing eleven year old boy is a character filled with much courage and gentle strength. Sam has recently undergone life saving surgery in an attempt to finally remove cancer from his body. This life changing operation has resulted in the loss of his voice. As Sam learns to negotiate a new world, where he is unable to use his voice to communicate, family matters begin to arise. Loyal Aunt Dettie has been looking after Sam and his sister, along with his mother. When Sam’s mother enters the dating game, Aunt Dettie decides enough is enough and concludes now is the best time to reunite her brother with the children that he abandoned. What ensues is a dangerous road trip from the east to the west coast. Sam is rendered helpless and watches on in quiet horror as his aunt takes a dangerous path with him and his sister in tow. Sign is the story of a road trip that goes terribly wrong, along with one young boy’s fight to reclaim his life.
I came across this debut novel from the Australian literary genre, through the recommendation of a fellow book blogger and trusted reviewer. It was fate when my local library had a copy out on display in the new releases section and I had a feeling that this was my ‘sign’ that I had to read Sign by Colin Dray. I appreciated the gentle undertones of this novel very much and I can see why it has attracted such a positive response from other reviewers and critics alike.
I was immediately impressed by the third person narrative voice of the leading character of this novel, Sam. Although Sam is just a child, at eleven years old, he seems to have experienced so much in his short life. There is a sense of maturity and responsibility to Sam, he is also burdened with situations that no eleven year old should have to experience. It is easy to develop an attachment for Sam. My mother’s instinct, especially as I have two young boys of my own kicked in while reading Sam’s story. It touched me much more than I expected and my heart went out to Sam, many times over. I was also very impressed by the author, Colin Dray’s ability to infiltrate the heart and mind of an eleven year old so succinctly. I can only imagine how hard a task this would be to a writer, but Dray’s approach is effortless.
A significant amount of this book is devoted to the fateful road trip from the east to the west coast. Dray uses these sections of the novel to capture the harshness of our country, the vast distance, the searing heat and the danger of the bushfire that impacts on this family in the novel. I found these scenes had a strong visual quality. There is also something distinctly Australian about these passages. For me personally, it ignited memories of my own family road trips as a young girl growing up in the 1980’s, which is the same time period as this novel.
Colin Dray uses his first novel, Sign, to examine some strong themes. Aunt Dettie’s very well formed character gives Dray the room to explore mental illness. He also examines the impact of childhood cancer, life changing surgery and the struggle to adjust to life after such an event. Communication is an overarching theme of this book and is covered with a great deal of insight as the book moves along. Through the young characters of Sam and his sister Katie, Dray looks into sibling relationships, personal responsibility and the tenuous nature of family based relationships.
For those who like fast paced novels, expect this novel to be quite the opposite. Sign plods along in an unstated fashion, but the power behind the writing has a lasting impact. This is a story that will resonate with many readers. Do not expect a neatly tied together ending, instead, Dray offers a story that will get your mind ticking over. Sign is a novel that serves up plenty of questions which is an impressive feat for a debut author. A thought provoking, highly readable and very fine read.
Sign by Colin Dray is published on January 24th 2018 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
*Book ‘d’ of the a-z author challenge 2018