As an editor, I try to publish at least one debut author every year. And this year, the talented new writer I want the world to know about is Ali Lewis. Ali has written one of the most accomplished, moving and heart-warming novels you’ll ever read.
Set in the harsh Australian outback on a cattle station, this is the story of 13-year-old Danny Dawson – and his life is tough. His older brother Jonny was killed in an accident last year but no-one ever talks about it. His 14-year-old sister is pregnant but won’t say who the father is. And it’s getting and hotter and hotter and the rains won’t come.
And into the midst of this family, where the cracks are beginning to show, comes Liz. She’s a Pommie, employed to help around the ranch. And she’s useless. She can hardly drive, she can’t cook, she’s not strong enough to do half the jobs she’s supposed to – and Danny wishes she’d just go back to England. But slowly he realises that yes, she’s different from the people he’s used to, but that’s not always a bad thing. She’s got an unusual way of looking at things and she asks a lot of questions. Before long, Danny’s changing his mind about her.
The relationship between these two characters is wonderful. Danny teaches her how to drive, and she teaches him how to open up, to grieve. But don’t go thinking this is some sort of touchy-feely novel. It’s definitely not. It’s also about living in a part of the world where the elements are crucial to your very existence – and as a drought hits the cattle station, the whole family soon find themselves battling to survive.
The plot and characters in this novel are exceptionally well drawn and the descriptions of life in the Outback with its cruel heat are so vivid you can almost taste the dust. But without a doubt the thing that stands out for me in this novel is Danny’s voice. There’s something about him you can’t fail to like. He’s funny and vulnerable and he stays with you. If you only read one debut novel this year, I urge you – make it this one. You won’t be disappointed.