When a story makes you cry, you know that it has touched you on a deep emotional level. Get A Grip, Cooper Jones, is Sue Whiting’s latest book for children and when I was reading it, I found myself both laughing and crying.

Set in an isolated “surfie” town wedged between the sea and the rugged escarpment, Get a Grip, Cooper Jones is a story about friendship and families; about fighting fires and facing fears; about growing up and finding where you fit.

Cooper Jones is the sort of character that gets under your skin. He’s a thirteen year old who doesn’t tidy his room, sleeps in late and has dubious personal hygiene, but is also extremely vulnerable. Cooper is at an age where he needs answers; where he wants to know who his Dad really is and what’s really going on around him.

He doesn’t always get things right and this makes for some great humour. There is plenty of action and intensity in Get A Grip, Cooper Jones, and the lighter moments add weight to the tension.

When gorgeous newcomer, Abbie comes to Wangaroo Bay and Mum starts acting weird again Cooper’s life begins to spin out of control and old fears and insecurities return to the fore. But when bushfire threatens and puts lives at risk, Cooper has to get a grip fast.

There were so many things I enjoyed about Get A Grip, Cooper Jones. Apart from the great characters, setting and humour there were the little things I found appealing – for example, the Mum who runs away to join the circus – the turning of stereotypes on their head.

Get A Grip, Cooper Jones is for readers aged 10-14 and has themes of identity, family, friendship, bushfires, survival, courage, beach, coming-of-age and adoption.

Sue Whiting talks about writing Get A Grip, Cooper Jones

I first started thinking about this story when I came across a very silly joke book. This book was filled with jokes like: “What’s the difference between a man and a piece of cheese?” Cheese matures. And “Why are men like snot?” They get up your nose.

As a flicked through the book, giggling, I started to wonder about what it would be like for a young boy to grow up in a household with a mum who felt this way about men. That boy became Cooper Jones. The story has changed enormously from this early idea, but it was the joke book that it all sprang from.

Why will kids like Get A Grip, Cooper Jones?

I hope kids will like it because it is about them – about two pretty typical thirteen year olds facing life’s ups and downs.

But what I hope more than anything else is that readers will find new friends in Cooper and Abbie, and that they will be keen to hang out with them for a while. And as tensions increase and bushfires threaten, and Cooper’s life seems to be spinning out of control, they will be there, shouting – yelling – at Cooper, telling him he had better get a grip – and fast – because Abbie’s survival depends on it.

What Sue says about Cooper

Cooper is a great kid – he just doesn’t realise it! He thinks he is a big-time cowardly loser.

He loves the bush, hanging out at the Feral Tree and swimming in the Blue Hole. He is a strong competitive swimmer, who does early-morning swimming training three times a week. But he is terrified of the sea (and what lurks below the surface) and never swims in the surf. This is not ideal when you live in a town like Wangaroo Bay that is so “surfie”.

Writing Get A Grip, Cooper Jones

The thing Sue enjoyed most about writing this book was writing the bushfire scenes.

The words came out in such a huge rush I could barely keep up. I was on fire! (Sorry – bad pun alert!) When I had finished, I was spent, totally drained – emotionally and physically – and it was many weeks before I could continue with the rest of the story.

The hardest part was listening to my characters. I had a very clear idea about what I wanted the story to be about – but Cooper and Abbie had other (better!) ideas. It took me a long time to realise this and to work out what was really bothering them. Once I stopped and listened to them, the story fell into place.

More information about Sue and her books is available from her website:

Published by

Dee White

Dee White lives with her husband and two sons in a small rural country town which has more kangaroos than people. She has worked as an advertising copywriter and journalist and has had numerous career changes because until recently, writing wasn’t considered to be a proper job. Letters to Leonardo, her first novel with Walker Books Australia, was published in 2009 to great critical acclaim.