I wasn’t disappointed. Big River, Little Fish is another Belinda Jeffrey’s book that’s hard to put down.
It tells the story of 15-year-old Tom Downs struggling to fit into a world that he doesn’t understand, and that doesn’t understand him. Tom’s Mum died giving birth to him and apparently, he came out backwards; which seems to explain why things don’t make sense. Tom struggles with reading letters, and with reading the people and the world around him.
Apart from his closest friend, Hannah, Tom is more comfortable with the recluses who live by the river than with kids his own age.
Tom wonders what it takes for a person to end up like that: feeling safer alone than with others. Depending only on yourself come hell or high water. Then again, perhaps he does understand.
Caring for people like for Murray Black, Bum-crack and Mrs Cath helps Tom to understand his own place in the world.
Big River, Little Fish is as deep, powerful and unpredictable as the Murray River, which provides the backdrop, the catalyst and the resolution for this amazing story.
It’s a beautifully crafted novel where the setting, Old Mother Murray becomes another character in the story. Big River, Little Fish was inspired by teen holidays Belinda spent at her father’s shack on the Murray, and her affinity with the river is clear.
The story is set in 1956 when the banks of the South Australian Murray River burst its banks in one of the state’s worst-ever natural disasters. The locals know it’s coming and Tom feels that everything he loves could be swept away and lost.
Old Mother Murray is like the ups and downs of life. Sometimes it is full to overflowing and sometimes it’s a muddy hole full of sharp branches and rocks.
Belinda Jeffrey has a way of creating characters that get inside your heart and soul. Her evocative writing allows you to feel the water lapping at your feet, and experience Tom’s tide of emotions as past mixes with present to create a new beginning.
Big River, Little Fish will keep you thinking, long after you have read the last word.
It is published by University of Queensland Press.