Thursday, October 28, 2010

Brown Skin Blue by Belinda Jeffrey

My mum's skin is white, my skin is brown and I have a blue birthmark.  Two secrets rule my life.  One is something I need to know and the other is something I need to forget.  They won't let me go.


Some people say you can't death roll with a beast that has already survived a million years and live to tell the story.  Or can you? (from jacket copy)

Brown Skin Blue is one of those unassuming books that caught me unaware - by the time I had finished with it I knew I had read something extraordinary. 

Barry Mundy (who everyone calls Barramundy) has a secret - which the reader knows, but no one else does - it's a secret that means journalists are tracking him down and that gives him nightmares. A secret that robbed his childhood and a secret that has bigger ramifications that Barramundy has yet to discover. 

Barry (seventeen) is on his own in the hot town of Humpty Doo. He manages to score a job with Top End Croc Jumping Cruises - showing tourists the deadly crocs. He's living in Humpty Doo Hotel and keeps a piece of paper on his fridge - it's a list:
Teabag. Toucan. Stumpy. Lovejack. Boomboom. 
The five names his mother gave him - having nailed down the five possible men that could be his father.

Setting: The story takes place in Humpty Doo, in the Northern Territory. Just like the richness of the setting in Lucy Christopher's Stolen, Jeffries achieves a similar brilliance with immersing the reader in top end Australia, which is like a country of it's own with it's own breed of resilient and colourful characters. I've never been to Darwin or the Northern Territory so I really appreciated how well the setting was painted in my mind through Jeffrey's words.

Among the characters are the rag-tag crew working at the Top End Croc Tours and a girl, Sally, who likes Barramundy but also has her own secrets. 

Each character has their own story and Jeffrey doesn't hold back or sensationalise the way it is.

Tyson shakes his head. 'Dad left when I was a kid.'
The way he says it makes me feel cold and tight in my throat. he couldn't be more than nine of ten and I'm suddenly sitting beside him wondering how long it's been since he thought of himself as a child. It's like I'm sitting next a version of myself at the same age. Lost between a childhood that might never have been and a sea of nothing in between. Grown up and ground down too quick. p175
The plot unravels at a steady pace which did not quite prepare me for the astonishing climax. The story follows Barramundy while he's with the gang on the croc cruise, nights spent having drinks at Humpty Doo Pub and time in his room with Sally. He's wondering about his father and thinking about his mother who he left behind. And - he's trying to out-run childhood scars. 

Approaching the climax, I had a sudden sense of where Jeffery was taking the story and I wanted to stuff my fist in my mouth and not let it be true. All the threads came together so masterfully that to say it was poignant seems like too pretty a word for something so powerful.

"I'm a boy in a river of tears never cried and I have my own cards to play. I have been in this moment all my life.
There's one last story I have to let go of." p 197

"Riddick's the man I want to be. He's broken, he's done things he's not proud of, but he's had the guts to conquer everything. He's survived." p 103. 
Recommended: Brown Skin Blue is a book that could be read in schools - strong in themes such as identity, hope, belonging, community, family, legacy and forgiveness- it's a coming of age story unlike one I've read before. It's a story both tragic and triumphant that will linger long after the last page has been read.

Random stuff to love:
  • Character's names which added to a real sense of Australian Top End authenticity like McNabm Blue, Boof, and  Teabag Jones and Stumpy Johnson.
  • Crocodile facts. And other fascinating info snuck in at the ends of chapters. I mean, who knew? A grade Crocidile Skin is worth $7.40 per centimetre
  • The crocs all have their own personalities and stories that match their names.  There's Albert, Mavis, Bluster, Elvis, Robot and Scoop.

Brown Skin Blue was short-listed for the 2009 WA Premier's Award
(The 2009 winner was Liar by Justine Larbaliestier)
Judge's comments: Belinda Jeffrey   Brown Skin Blue
Definitely for the older end of YA spectrum and quite gripping, Brown Skin Blue is topical and well written. There is some shocking content in these pages, but it is powerfully and appropriately drawn. This is challenging subject matter to write, and Jeffrey has handled it very well.
Brown Skin Blue @ Penguin
Belinda Jeffrey's Website

And a visual bonus, yay! So - here's a few pics of Humpty Doo:

Humpty Doo Hotel - where Barramundy was living

A snap from a Jumping Croc Cruise
 Thank you to Penguin Australia for sending me this review copy


  1. Oh wow, this sounds amazing! I like that it's set in the NT, something new and different for YA.

    Great review. Def adding it to my TBR pile!

  2. wow, great review. how will i ever get my hands on all this amazing australian literature? oye, i really need to get myself a kindle or something!

  3. This sounds amazing! Off to see if my library has it now.

  4. Oh man, this book sounds so good. Thanks for the review, I'm sure I would never have heard of it if it weren't for this blog!

  5. Well that sounds like one I need to read! Excellent review and I love your random stuff to love section.

  6. I had the opportunity to read this but didn't and now I wish I had read it. Fantastic review Nomes!

  7. Amazing Review! I love discovering Australian authors through your reviews.

  8. After reading the summary, I was totally hooked on this and SO thrilled to hear that it was as good as it sounded. I love, love, love the details with the names and the quotes you picked -- especially the one about the boy in the river are AMAZING.

    And you write such enticing reviews -- I'm so eager to find out what happens now, when all the threads come together :)

  9. You've won an award at my blog!

  10. You've won an award at my blog!

  11. You've won an award at my blog!

  12. You've won an award at my blog!

  13. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  14. You have such a knack for getting me so excited about a book and then leaving me hanging. I really want to know more now! Not fair, but great review!

  15. Great review, Nomes. I also thought this book was excellent. I read it a couple of months ago, during time out at the Brisbane Writers Festival, where I met the lovely Belinda. (She chaired one of my sessions.) As you say, this book really does linger...

  16. Awesome review Nomes. Another one to my list. I love the quotes. Those names of his possible Dad's are hilarious too. Sounds like it is filled with unforgettable characters :)

  17. Good lord humpty doo is a real place!! how ridiculous that as an aussie i didn't know that. this sounds great, just put it on the list.

  18. Absolutely brilliant review! I want to visit Humpty Doo haha :)

  19. NT huh? I haven't read anything set there before! And what an odd name, 'Humpty Doo'!

    But the character's names are what has me intruiged! Teabag? Boomboom?
    I'm especially loving that the crocodiles have personalities.
    Sigh, you keep suggesting great Australian YA and I need to get off my ass and buy some, this one sounds great!

  20. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


    And, I am a Territorian born and bred, so I can tell you, this novel is SPOT ON. I grew up in Howard Springs, which is not far from Humpty Doo. We used to go to the Humpty Doo Pub on Sunday arvos for live bands and lunch.

    I read this book soooo long ago, you have made me want to revisit it :)

    Thanks Nomes!

    Tye x

  22. Fantastic review, this one is going straight on my wishlist Nomes. I loved Stolen too and having lived in the 'top end' for 6years I love books with a well presented outback setting.

  23. I'm definitely intrigued. Great review Nomes:) We were hoping to drive through Humpty Doo on our way to Belyuen Aboriginal community, but ended up catching the ferry instead. We'll have to go back now and see what its like!

  24. Whoa, amazing review and cool picts. I thought the town name was made up! You really have me wanting to read this, and I just bought Beatle meets Destiny. You are so turning me into an aussie!


Thanks for the commenty love :)