Wow–this book delivered on the hype and met all of my high hopes for a truly excellent read. It was gritty, brutal, a little dreamy, and utterly absorbing.
Twelve-year old Eli Bell loves his messed-up family: his older brother, August, who stopped talking after a childhood trauma, and his mother and stepfather who are heroin dealers and former addicts. Eli’s best friend and babysitter, Slim Halliday, is a notorious felon, famous for his multiple escapes from prison. Things go south when the violence of his parents’ business comes to their home. His stepfather disappears and his mother ends up in jail.
Eli embarks on several missions: to save his mother, to find out what happened to his stepfather, to become a crime journalist, and to become a good man–all while taking down the man running the drug show in his seedy Australian suburb.
Fair warning: parts of this book are brutal and a little gruesome. Dalton based the story on his own youth as the child of drug dealers–Slim Halliday was a real person who was actually Dalton’s babysitter–which makes it all the more fascinating. I didn’t realize this tie to real life until I finished the book, and I immediately started Googling to learn more. If this catches the interest of other readers, it may be a candidate for a future story of the story post.
This post may include affiliate links. That means if you click and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.
An utterly wonderful debut novel of love, crime, magic, fate and a boy’s coming of age, set in 1980s Australia and infused with the originality, charm, pathos, and heart of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
The mind can take you anywhere you want to go
Eli Bell’s life is complicated. His father is lost, his mother is in jail, and his stepdad is a heroin dealer. The most steadfast adult in Eli’s life is Slim—a notorious felon and national record-holder for successful prison escapes—who watches over Eli and August, his silent genius of an older brother.
Exiled far from the rest of the world in Darra, a seedy suburb populated by Polish and Vietnamese refugees, this twelve-year-old boy with an old soul and an adult mind is just trying to follow his heart, learn what it takes to be a good man, and train for a glamorous career in journalism. Life, however, insists on throwing obstacles in Eli’s path—most notably Tytus Broz, Brisbane’s legendary drug dealer.
But the real trouble lies ahead. Eli is about to fall in love, face off against truly bad guys, and fight to save his mother from a certain doom—all before starting high school.
A story of brotherhood, true love, family, and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe is the tale of an adolescent boy on the cusp of discovering the man he will be. Powerful and kinetic, Trent Dalton’s debut is sure to be one of the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novels you will experience.