Only the landscape is dry

The Big DryThe Big Dry by Tony Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a tough read. The story of George and his little brother, Beeper, is set against a landscape that is barren, vast, and scary. We meet them just after their father has left their property, and has failed to return. Beeper is the optimist, sure that Dad will eventually come back and bring new supplies with him. George is not so sure. Living in a world where unattended children are rounded up and taken off to “welfare”, George is afraid of everything around him. There are not many adults around at all, it seems, and those we do meet through the story are either powerless and struggling or brutal and harsh. There are searing wind storms that cut through the town periodically and are fierce enough to carry people away. Scary stuff for two kids, even IF Dad was around.
Into the lives of Beeper and George comes Emily. She gradually insinuates herself into the lives of George and Beeper and becomes part of what passes for their family. She is more worldly than the two boys and in a neat reversal of typical roles she becomes their protector and provider. George is wary of her and resents her getting close to Beeper. This sets the two in a tense stand off most of the time. It is only when they are truly threatened as a group that George realises his feelings for her, but by then it seems it is too late.
The novel takes place over just a few days, but because of the oppressive nature of their surroundings, and the danger that is ever-present, it feels a lot longer. I found the characters well crafted, particularly Beeper, who was delightful and vulnerable, and Emily who just wants to find a place in the world for herself again.
By the time to end of the book arrives, you feel worn down by the dry, dusty environment and while there is a note of hope, right on the final page, I felt an ache for George and Beeper as the book closed. I am not sure if there is a sequel in the offing, but there is certainly room to explore this world where rain has not been seen for many years, and the characters that inhabit it. I want to find out what happens to George and Beeper and the rest of the people in the book, so I am keeping my fingers crossed for a second book.
Suitable for 12 and up.

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