Book Talk: Dust by Mark Thompson

Recently I put Dust on my first Indie TBR list and then I shocked myself by actually reading it! Generally, me putting something on a list is pretty much a guarnatee that I then won't read it, but just maybe this Indie TBR idea will work as its intended. Anyway, the experience of Dust has definitely compelled me to try reading more things I say I'm going to read.

J.J Walsh and Tony ‘El Greco’ Papadakis are inseparable. Smoking Kents out on an abandoned cannery dock, and watching gulls sway on rusting buoys in the sea, they dream of adventure… a time when they can act as adults. The day they’ll see the mighty Pacific Ocean.

Set in small-town New Jersey in the 1960s, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, DUST follows the boys through the dry heat of a formative summer. They face religious piety and its murderous consequences, alcohol, girls, sex, loss, tragedy and ultimately the tiny things that combine to make life what it is for the two friends – a great adventure. But it’s a road trip through the heart of southern America with J.J.’s father, that truly reveals a darker side to life – the two halves of a divided nation, where wealth, poverty and racial bigotry collide. This beautifully written debut novel would not be out of place alongside the work of Steinbeck and Philipp Meyer’s American Rust. At turns funny, and at others heart-achingly sad, their story unfolds around the honest and frequently irreverent observations of two young people trying to grow up fast in a world that is at times confusing, and at others seen with a clarity only the young may possess.

This is one of those books where nothing really happens but at the same time everything happens. It's a coming of age story in the most honest sense and from the start the writing is just gorgeous. The story is narrated by J.J - he's one of those kids that gets in trouble a lot and manages to know a lot without people knowing he knows things and I found him really endearing. He and El Greco are I think ten when the book begins and definitely trying really hard to be adults - they drink black coffee just to shock people's mums and keep secret cigarettes in their socks and really don't want to be little kids anymore. Along with that goes lots of often not so great real life experiences - a peripheral character loses a parent, a kid in their town has a fatal car accident, the kinds of things that sadly do happen in the course of life. Although there are several sad events the book itself is far from sad. There's so much wisdom in Dust and it's extra poignant because it's delivered by children.

I loved the way that J.J sees his parents. Lots of books with child protagonists portray parents just as caregivers unless their personality is a larger part of the plot, but J.J notices things about his mother and El Greco's and how they interact with life. During the latter part of the book J.J and El Greco go on a road trip from New Jersey to Savannah with J.J's dad and the descriptions of the country are just brilliant:

"Savannah lay before us, lush and elegant, caught in time, preserved by luck and judgement, a great pearl thrown up seventeen miles from the ocean, as though too delicate to be cut and bruised by the sometimes angry sea".

For me Dust was all the things you want from a summer read - immersive, beautifully written with great characters, lots of ambling, quiet adventures and lots of heart. I would have loved to put it in a box but although it doesn't have the same themes, story or characters there are similarities to the book we've chosen for August's 'Going Home' box. I definitely recommend picking it up though as it's fantastic, and I'll be adding it to book club polls in the future for sure. Many thanks to RedDoor Publishing for sending us a copy to review.

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