SIGN COLIN DRAY (ALLEN & UNWIN, $32.99)
At age 10, Sam has a laryngectomy, rendering him forever speechless. He lives with his mother, sister and loopy Aunt Dettie, who is Sam’s absent father’s sister. It’s complicated. Tensions flare. Then in a moment of irrationality, Dettie bundles the kids into her car for a mad cross-country dash through the Nullarbor to see their father in Perth. Sam, an observant child, watches with alarm as Dettie’s behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre. He is helpless, unable to speak or to raise the alarm as they plunge headlong into deadly bushfires. “Smoke,” writes Dray, “was darkening the air above them, and all around, spotting the fields, he could see lumps that were probably once animals, smouldering, the same colour as the ground.” Sign is about a boy finding strength in adversity and his own language in the silence.