It’s not hard to see why Dust (Woolshed Press, 2009) was named a Children’s Book Council of Australia notable book, among its many accolades. It’s a simple, powerful coming-of-age story, the sort of thing that’s just the ticket for school libraries. Fairly subtle, too.
Chris Bongers grew up in Biloela and she taps that experience in this tale set in the countryside of her childhood. Like heroine Cecilia, Bongers had a mob of brothers to run amok with, too: how many chinese burns, corkies and horse bites did she trade? Droughts and flood and heaps of strine are, however, only the wonderfully drawn backdrop of this tale, set in the 1970s with a modern bookend.
Cecilia is on the cusp of moving from primary school to high, and there’s a steep learning curve to do with being yourself, of making choices, of caring for those on the fringes who have no one to care for them.
Working up ways to dodge the worst of penance in the confessional is just the start of it.
There’s the mysterious Kapernicky sisters, chalk and cheese and both just a little off; and the new girl, peaches-and-cream Hayley in her revelatory knee-high white boots; and Glenda with her ciggies and alluring coterie of no-gooders … and just what has got into Cecilia’s brother, Punk?
Bongers has the knack of flipping the switch from larrikin humour to pathos. Of painting her characters in human strokes, the good with the bad with the damn frustrating. Of letting the time go by, incident by incident, letting the allusions grow as the illusions slowly fade.
She perfectly captures that onset of maturity, young people trying to make sense of the world. Coming to realise that the dust of regret accumulates, seeking a way to keep the surfaces clean or at least keep the rug in its place; discovering the power of compassion.