Title: The Choke
Author: Sofie Laguna
Publisher: Aardvark Bureau, Gallic Books
Publication Date: 28th March 2019
Summary: from Amazon
“I never had words to ask anybody the questions, so I never had the answers…”
Abandoned by her mother and seldom visited by her unpredictable, violent father, 10-year-old Justine is raised by her grandfather, Pop – a man tormented by visions of war. Through years of poverty and neglect, Justine finds solace in the staggering natural beauty of the nearby Murray River. But when outside threats infiltrate even this sanctuary, who is there to protect her from danger?
Exposed to a lethal world, Justine must navigate the final years of her precarious childhood alone. She must find ways to endure, she must run when she has to, and, ultimately, she must fight back.
I was drawn to this book by the beautiful cover and I’m so glad I was because it really is extremely good. Set in 1970s Australia, The Choke follows a young girl named Justine who has been pretty much abandoned by her parents . She lives with her grandfather, Pop, who is living with PTSD from his time building the Burmese Railway in World War Two. To put it plainly, Justine’s life is incredibly difficult. She lives in poverty and has pretty much no adults she can trust or who can look after her properly. The Choke covers a lot of issues from learning difficulties and prejudice against the disabled to bigotry, sexism and homophobia. All this makes for a tough read at times but there’s also hope and true friendship to be found in this story.
I was rooting for Justine right from the beginning mostly because she is neglected by almost everyone. Her mother is long gone and her violent father is periodically absent and when he is present he brings even more darkness and difficulty into Justine’s life. Justine does have her grandfather to an extent and at times it is clear that, despite his shortcomings, he does care about Justine to some degree. However he is also battling his own demons. He seems to have perpetual flashbacks to his time as a prisoner of war which is immensely sad and the author writes his trapped mentality so skilfully. Because of the cruelty, both casual and determined that Justine encounters in her young life she is curiously both jaded and naïve in equal measure. Her struggle to get herself through the life she’s been handed is complex and lyrical in the way it is portrayed. I liked that the author didn’t always make Justine overwhelmingly likeable and yet still keeps the reader firmly on her side throughout.
I cannot claim that The Choke is a cheerful book, there is a lot of darkness in it but the subjects that book delves into like homophobia, neglect, sexual violence and prejudice are so important and written with such clarity here. The book is set in the 1970s and so as a reader we can look at some of what happens and say that things have much improved which is true. However, I think it’s important to remember there are still far too many kids leading immensely difficult lives blighted by these struggles all over the world and The Choke really brings that into focus. It is a raw and compelling book that is so worth taking the time to read.
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I received this book from the publisher. My review is my own honest opinion.