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The Piper's Son

Review

The Piper's Son

Melina Marchetta is experiencing a bit of a heyday lately among my circle of (online) friends. Even those who have never before picked up a young adult novel (or at least not since they were teens) find themselves waxing rhapsodic about Marchetta's works, especially her contemporary, Australia-set novels JELLICOE ROAD and SAVING FRANCESCA. In part, her appeal is the sophistication and maturity of her writing style and of the topics she tackles. In part, it's because she brings to life the insecurities and dramas of adolescence in a way that feels both immediate and authentic. This combination of maturity and empathy is, once again, on full display in her latest effort, THE PIPER'S SON.

THE PIPER'S SON revisits the circle of friends whom Marchetta first profiled in her achingly true novel, SAVING FRANCESCA. Now, though, those friends are all five years older; they've graduated from high school, gone off to university, and are, in many cases, scattered across the globe. Francesca, who's separated by several continents from her true love, Will, fervently listens to the news on the radio each night, making sure that all those she loves are safe from the wars and natural disasters that seem to strike somewhere, daily.

But Francesca, endearing though she continues to be, is not the focus of Marchetta's newest novel. That honor goes to Tom, who's been on a bit of a downward spiral in the five years since we've seen him last. His beloved young uncle was killed by a suicide bomber while working in London. His parents, impacted by grief and alcoholism, have been separated for a year. Tom himself has hit bottom, messed up on drugs and alcohol and abandoned by his flaky flatmates. He's wracked with guilt and sadness over the girl he still loves but treated badly. He finds himself boarding with his aunt Georgie, who, it turns out, is suffering a bit of a crisis of her own. She's pregnant by the ex-boyfriend who betrayed her years ago and unsure how --- or even whether --- to let him back into her life.

THE PIPER'S SON unfolds gradually, in chapters that focus alternately on Tom's and Georgia's overlapping experiences of loss, hope and healing. It's a mature novel, not just because of the age of its characters (Tom is 21, Georgie is 42) but because of Marchetta's storytelling style, which is languid and gradual, and relies as much on dialogue and eventual realization as it does on plot and revelation. It also has a nostalgic feeling, as Tom longs for the relative simplicity of high school life (not to mention another chance with the elusive Tara Finke) and Georgia reminisces over the way things used to be with her lover, Sam.

Above all, THE PIPER'S SON is a novel about absence --- both the literal absence of those who have died tragically (in addition to Tom's uncle, whose body was never discovered after the bombing, his grandfather has been missing in action since fighting in Vietnam) and the figurative absence of the people in Tom's and Georgie's life who are no longer there, or at least not there in the same ways. Rediscovering those people, those relationships, that sense of family is the devilishly difficult task set for both of them. In the end, the families they find and the friendships they make might not be the same ones they've longed for and imagined, but that understanding, after all, is part of what growing up is all about. No matter your age.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on March 8, 2011

The Piper's Son
by Melina Marchetta

  • Publication Date: August 14, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick
  • ISBN-10: 0763660620
  • ISBN-13: 9780763660628