Title: The Boy From The Mish
Author: Gary Lonesborough
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: February 2021
The Boy From The Mish follows Jackson, a 17-year-old Indigenous boy living in the community known as The Mish. He comes from a large family filled with rambunctious boys and a talented artist mother, as well as his Aunty Pam. When Aunty Pam introduces a new resident, Tomas, to The Mish, Jackson begins to question his feelings and sexuality. Tomas is mysterious and charming, and the two bond over their mutual love for storytelling; so much so, that they team up to write and illustrate their own graphic novel. As the two get closer and spend more time together they begin to develop feelings for each other, leaving Jackson questioning whether he identifies as gay. Jackson discusses whether he is ready to label himself as ‘gay’, which I really appreciated. Sexuality is such a fluid concept and it was great to see a young adult book depict this and the ruminations of a young person working through their feelings about their identity.
My first thought when finishing The Boy From The Mish was ‘finally, a queer book that doesn’t hinge on trauma and mistreatment of characters!’. So many queer stories use pain and trauma as plot devices, and while these stories are real and important, it is just as important for young audiences to read about stories that are hopeful and positive. This novel also addresses the topic of the intersectionality between race, gender, and sexuality really well, and I enjoyed the points in the plot that involved interaction between Indigenous Elders and the younger generation. We get a glimpse into how Jackson and Tomas reflect on their identities and what it means to them, and there was a particularly poignant exchange between Jackson and an Elder towards the end of the book. These elements of identity are so intrinsically linked and I feel this story addressed them with brilliant detail and a great deal of heart.
Race is addressed through the lens of the prejudice faced by the residents of The Mish at the hands of both the police and the white characters in the book, and how it affects Jackson and his mates. They are targeted by local police and have slurs thrown at them in public by racists within the town. Jackson describes being reduced to his outward appearance when being called by a slur, and reading that inner monologue and his reaction is deeply affecting as the importance of his identity is made clear in this moment. It made his struggle to reconcile his full identity even more realistic and I could tell the author injected some personal experiences into the characterisation of Jackson. Gary Lonesborough has a talent for not only character development but also the way in which teenagers are portrayed in the book.
If you are a fan of books such as Invisible Boys by Holden Sheppard or Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz, I implore you to pick up this book. It really cuts to the heart of what it means to discover your identity in a small community, which I feel many readers will be able to relate to.