SIGN COLIN DRAY (ALLEN & UN­WIN, $32.99)

North & South - - Review -

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.

JU­DITH BARAGWANATH

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