The plot: Man slaps a nearly three year-old at a barbecue in modern day Australia for being "unruly, eight people are there to see it happen and repercussions ensue. The slap seems to open up a can of worms and the eight characters are forced to re-evaluate their relationships not only with the perpetrator but with the people they have known and trusted for most of their lives.
After finishing the book I did think to myself: "Would I have reacted in the same way had I had that child at my house acting the way he was in the book and the way his parents were handling the situation as well?" I mean let's be honest some kids are so plain horrible that they are practically begging for a slap and their parents in turn are so callous that you want to just go ahead and slap the whole family silly. My answer eventually: No. But the bigger question I had to ask myself is: WHY NOT? After wrestling with various answers I reached the conclusion that slapping/hitting a child has scientifically proven traumatic effects that you cannot ignore on a child's development and psychology. I personally could never live with the guilt of doing that to my child or any other child for that matter especially when you can reach the same conclusion of discipline through other more constructive channels (albeit harder work) like talking and explaining proper behaviour.
I don't think anyone of us doesn't have an elderly person in the family who hasn't gone on and on about how kids "these days" lack discipline, morals, and all-round proper manners. How all they need is to be clipped round the ears. Yes, you think, and let's see how their kids turned out shall we? Looking back at my life growing up I can still remember having to sit still as we visited with my mum, spoke only when spoken to, minded our pleases and thank yous and made sure we were never part of the adult conversation going on. Basically, our opinion (even if we had one) did not matter. We were never asked what we wanted to eat, wear, do. We just went along and did it because mum or dad said so. And if you didn't like dinner then tough. Somewhere along the line, we did learn manners but lost out on self expression. A fine line isn't it?
These days my son tells me in advance what his likes and dislikes are. He is more articulate and open about his feelings and what is more astounding is that I am patient and interested enough to want to listen. Maybe not always but more often than not. However, even the most patient of parents should in my opinion have a limit or boundary that the child should be taught not to cross. Mine for example is rudeness. A nasty trait I totally abhor. That is one of the boundaries that we as a family abide by and that my partner and I make sure we explain to our child and the reason we believe it to be important. We take the time. That doesn't come without a lot of frustration and times head butting but we explain and explain and explain. Fingers crossed!
But honestly, how many of us have gone to play club or had children over only to realize that what you would most like to do is bin the cupcakes and bundle them up right then and there and physically kick them all the way back to their homes. They are whiny, spoilt and intolerable and their parents think they are the best. No, I don't think your child is creative by drawing on my walls, and No I don't think he is expressing his emotions when he rolls on the carpet screaming and hollering and No I don't think he's cute, adorable or sweet. He's a monster and since I won't slap him I want you and your child to go away and stay away. Aah, feel better already!
I'm digressing now. See how easy that can be. Anyway back to the book. There are some colorful characters in the book. I actually related to a few of them and at the end funnily enough you come to love each one for what they are and for how human and real Tsiolkas has made them seem. I found myself being part of the alliances being made in the book. I loved Aisha, Anook and surprisingly Hector. Rosie reminded me of a friend I never talk to anymore and she was (and where I am concerned still is) the devil. But here lies the beauty and power of the book. Rarely does a book offer characters and situations that draw the reader into not only questioning their actions were they faced with such similar circumstances but that upon discussing it, say in a book club, you become part of the plot forming alliances with fictional characters.
The only thing I might say about the book is that at times the book veers away from the main plot and we find Tsiolkas trying to cram in as many issues into the book as possible. One moment the characters are dealing with the repercussions of slapping a child and then all of a sudden we have Islam, growing up pains and a suicide attempt. Too much that could have the potential of being dealt with in a stand alone novel. But maybe this is part of the author's idea of trying to show how diverse Australian society has become.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely and don't read it alone. This is a great book to share with your friends and you might be surprised at what the discussions will uncover. How frequently has a book been able to do that?