My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Lucky Ones, by Australian writer Tohby Riddle, is an odd book. I found more negatives than positives in this young adult novel but I’ll start with the things I liked about it. The main character and first-person narrator, Tom, is an interesting character. His voice is engaging, thoughtful and authentic and he is a fun character to get to know. The prose in the novel is another highlight in the book. At times poetic, at other times whimsical, it had a lovely flow and rhythm which was atmospheric and brought many scenes to life.
However, nothing happened in this book. Absolutely nothing. There was no conflict at all, no stakes raised or resolved, and the characters and relationships were not strong enough on their own to carry the novel. Tom went to art school. Tom went to parties. Tom had a crush on a girl. Tom was confused by the behaviour of his best mate, Cain. Tom got a job. Tom’s mother left home, and he got a bit upset. Tom, overall, was just a little too laid back for his own good. I kept waiting for Tom to get a grip on something, anything, that would propel him into some sort of action but it didn’t come.
The time setting of the novel also threw me a little. I think it was 1980s but the signposts were a little confusing, to me at least. Although the place, Sydney, was well-drawn, not being able to feel anchored in a particular time also added to the novel’s disjointed feel.
A distinct voice and atmospheric writing is not enough to carry a novel. It needs heart, it needs to give the reader something to care about, something to cheer for in a character. But Tom ambled through this post-high school year a little confused but with not a lot of emotion one way or the other. And as a reader, I ambled along with it. I had it as a beach read so it was okay in that aspect. But overall, it left me feeling flat.