Reviews of books I've found to be really rather quite spectacular
Knowing Favel Parrett is Australian meant that I had exceedingly high expectations for Past The Shallows. A little unfair perhaps but I have yet to come across an Australian YA novel that I dislike. I am pleased to announce this statemement is still true. Past The Shallows is hauntingly beautiful and I'm still thinking about it now.
As you can probably guess from the synopsis, the story is bleak. There is a great deal of loss and hopelessness throughout - the whole book is weighed down by a heavy, almost inescapable sadness. Then there was Harry. There's a reason people always talk about wanting to think like a child again because even those who are forced to grow up far too quickly can lose themselves in childlike delight and fantasies. Harry was a small ray of light in a terribly grim story. It is because of Harry that Past The Shallows also highlights the kindness of strangers. Harry's interactions with George and Jake are bursts of gold. I'm still not completely sure why George took to Harry so much (I don't think it was anything sinsister either, so don't worry about that). I thought perhaps he was friends with Harry's granddad or another member of the family. Either way, I loved their time together and just like Harry, I felt relieved to have a small respite from the oppressive nature of the father. It's a testament to Favel Parrett's talents that the father, whilst saying very little, and not being around all that much, was such a dark presence, constantly upsetting the balance.
With regard to the other characters, it's impossible to feel sorry for Miles, the middle man, literally. Miles is the Atlas of the story, bearing the weight of responsibility for his little brother, worrying about his big brother, along with the expectations his father holds for him. Instead of being allowed to explore and be the child that he is, like Harry and his rich friend of sorts, Miles has come of age and must work on the boat, putting himself in danger both from the sea and the temperments of his father and colleague Jeff (a brutal, heartless man who I despised - see, once again, being able to invoke such emotions in reader is a testament to Favel Parrett's writing). Many of the scenes between Miles and Harry were heartbreaking - particularly when the father took a turn for the worse.
The prose was very simple. Much was left unsaid. However, this was part of the beauty of the novel. On the one hand, it reflected the pure, simple, and wholly good nature of Harry. On the other hand, it reflected the sadness and emptiness felt by all those left in the wake of the father's moods and the mother's death. Similarly, it also mirrored the setting and the lives of those in the fishing huts and caravans in the town.
Being a story about fisherman, naturally the sea is also a character in Past The Shallows. At times, generous and giving, at other times a playground and a means of escape. However, it is also something that can be more fearsome and overwhelming than the father. I remember watching a surfing documentary and one of the Hawaiian coastguards (or something similar) said that from a young age, in Hawaii, the children are taught to respect the ocean as much as they enjoy it. I kept on remembering this line whilst reading Past The Shallows, particularly in light of the father's and Jeff's behaviour.
Overall, there are plenty of other themes in the novel such as, guilt, grudges, loneliness, friendship, escaping vs. running away. Far too much in this little book to dissect in a short review. However, I would highly reccomend Past The Shallows. It is thoughtful and moving and will haunt you for days.