New Release Book Review: Hey Brother by Jarrah Dundler

Hey Brother…

About the Book:

Before leaving for war in Afghanistan, Shaun Black gives his little brother Trysten a mission of his own. Keep out of trouble.

Trysten tries, but with Mum hitting the bottle harder than ever and his dad not helping, Trysten responds the only way he knows how, with his fists – getting into a fight at school and lining up for another one with his uncle who’s come to stay.

When the family receives news that Shaun will be home for Christmas, Trysten is sure that good times are coming. But when Shaun returns, Trysten soon realises he has a whole new mission – to keep Shaun out of trouble.

Hey Brother tells the story of a tough kid from the bush whose world comes crashing down on his shoulders. But with his own blend of fury, resilience and deadpan humour, Trysten proves to be up for every challenge.

Shortlisted The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award 2017 Australia


My Thoughts:

More often than not, the books I like the most prove the hardest to review. There can be a hundred reasons why I liked a book, but when it comes to articulating this with actual meaningful sentences, I end up with this:

I loved this novel.

That’s where I’m at with Hey Brother. Pushed to convey a bit more, I can stretch it to this:

I loved everything about this novel.

“Then she grabbed Shaun’s head, slammed it into her belly, threw her own head back and wailed. She wailed up into the night sky like she wanted every single one of those stars to feel her sadness and fury.”

Hey Brother is incredible. Honest in a raw emotional way that is quintessentially Australian. It’s full of swear words and insults and dodgy behaviour by adults but everything is so perfectly within context and delivered with such ease. Truly, Jarrah Dundler is an amazing writer; where has he been hiding? And wow, as far as a debut goes, I’m more than a little in awe. Jarrah’s bio indicates that he works as a peer support worker with people who have a lived experience of mental illness. He certainly brings this insight to the page with sensitivity and a brutal honesty that is at times uncomfortable but always entirely on the mark.

“Decisions, mate. That’s what defines you in the end. Some advice for ya – before you make one, try and give it a little thought beforehand, would ya? ‘Cause, believe me, regret’s a fucken cunt of a thing to live with.”

Hey Brother is a story about a family in crisis. They’re in crisis at the best of times, but another crisis hits them when Shaun, the eldest son, returns home from a tour of Afghanistan suffering PTS. Kirsty, his mum, is not stable herself and veers from highs where she cleans in a frenzy and bakes night and day to the lowest of lows where she lies on the couch for days under a sheet drinking herself into oblivion. Kirsty was sadly all too familiar to me and made me appreciate Jarrah’s insight all the more. Greg, his dad, lives in a caravan away from the house, hiding in his own filth and nursing a guilty conscience, communicating only with Trysten, Shaun’s younger brother, who acts as a go-between for his parents. Into this mix wanders Trev, Kirsty’s drug addicted alcoholic criminal brother who regularly shows up when he’s hankering after a place to stay. Trysten, our protagonist, is a tough little warrior, fourteen years old, well versed at fending for himself when his mum is mentally awol, sharp tongued but with the biggest heart of gold you could ever hope for in a son. He is, without a doubt, an iconic character. A true blue mate, defender to the end for those he loves. He just leapt off the page, his personality was so well defined. Characterisation is definitely one of Jarrah’s strong points. He has a unique ability to show the range of human traits that can exist within one person, the patches of this and that which all knit together to make a person who they are. And then he applies some pressure, and then a bit more, until one person becomes another, because that’s what can happen when breaking point is within reach. Every single character within this novel, from the major players through to the supporting cast, were wholly three dimensional. Living, breathing, flawed people. I would no sooner form an impression of someone and then Jarrah would pull the rug out from under me and I’d be reassessing, humbled for being so judgemental.

This novel was often funny, and even more often sad. I felt this constant welling of emotion while I was reading, the poignancy all too raw at times. The way Jarrah ended this novel was utterly perfect but it had me weeping. It was so incredibly moving. Hey Brother is about family, and not just the close bond between Shaun and Trysten. It’s about loving your tribe, no matter how imperfect they are, because they’re yours, and they’ve got your back. It’s about stepping up and saving each other instead of stepping back and watching the fall. And it’s about believing that life, no matter how dark the days get, is worth living. It’s always worth living. I feel changed by this novel, and grateful that Jarrah Dundler has given it to us.

“Our family. How we’d broken apart and come back together and how we might break apart again, but we’d always come back to the place that’d shaped us. Back home.”

🍵🍵🍵🍵🍵


Thanks is extended to Allen and Unwin for providing me with a copy of Hey Brother for review.


About the Author:

Jarrah was raised in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. Since completing his BA in Politics at Griffith University he’s worked as a barista, pizza-chef, AusAID volunteer, grant writer, uni tutor, and a stonemason’s labourer. His short fiction has appeared in Booranga’s fourW anthology, and his novel manuscript Hey Brother was selected for both a Byron Writers Residential Mentorship and Varuna Writers Fellowship and shortlisted for the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award (2017). Jarrah currently lives back in his hometown, Kyogle, with his partner and children and works in nearby Lismore as a peer support worker with people who have a lived experience of mental illness. Hey Brother is his first novel.


Hey Brother
Published by Allen and Unwin
Released on 1st August 2018
Available in Paperback and eBook

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