It's 1986 and Halley's Comet is hurtling towards the Earth. Everyone is talking about what the comet will bring - wishes could be granted, people might go mad, great disasters could happen...When Andrew is asked to write down his greatest wish for the Comet Box, he can think of only one thing - that his runaway sister Amelia will finally come home. As the comet draws nearer he begins to learn the reasons why she left in the first place and the more he learns, the more he wants to forget. When Amelia is captured and brought home she reveals a shocking secret that makes Andrew's once safe world begin to unravel. As the comet arrives, Andrew must choose whether to be blind to the mistakes of the people around him or to side with his sister as she tears his family apart.
About the Author
Adrian Stirling is the author of the novel Broken Glass.
The Comet Box is quite different in tone and atmosphere to Broken Glass. In Broken Glass, Stirling nails that gritty, claustrophobic and tight knit feel of a dusty small country town community. It was a sensory and gripping read, tense, vivid, absorbing and featured an astonishing climax.
While the Comet Box is different in setting, era and themes, it still shines with the same brilliance that blew me away in Broken Glass: it's a vivid and absorbing portrayal of life in the Aussie suburbs. I was continually impressed with how completely Stirling immerses the reader in the era ~ mid 1980's Aussie suburban life ~ utterly authentic and absolutely undeniably Australian.
There was just so much to love about this novel. Of course, there's the mystery surrounding why Andrew's sister has run away ~ and the suspense bubbles quietly under the surface throughout the novel:
'If I told you the truth, you'd run away as well,' she said so quietly that I could barely hear it. 'Go to bed, Andrew, and forget about everything.' p109
But it wasn't just the hook that captivated me while reading The Comet Box. It was the way Stirling holds a mirror up to suburban life, to human nature, to each character in the novel. He should win some sort of award for delving effortlessly into the minds of all the neighbourhood characters and beautifully, astonishingly, scarily depicting them. I could have been reading about a number of people I know and have grown up with O.O
I don't like to compare books, but reading The Comet Box reminded me very much so of the way Christos Tsiolkas explores Aussie themes/lifestyle/etc in which won so many awards for it's honest & startling depiction) although The Comet Box is still entirely different. I didn't particularly enjoy The Slap but I so very immensely liked The Comet Box. And I think it was because our protagonist is so relate-able ~ and also due to the gritty, grinning sense of humour ~ OH MY GOSH there are some completely brilliant lines in there. It's pretty much an entirely quotable book.
I ate an apple and forgot to take the sticker off first - my mother was probably wishing that I'd saved it for the scrapbook.' p123 (loved Andrew's scrap-booking mum. So easy to imagine her)
Andrew is curious and right at that point in life where he is searching for answers and thinking about life and what it should be against how it is. And finding out things are not at all how they seem. Perfect YA themes. Kind of disturbing and addictive ~ as if reading you are spying on Andrew's neighbourhood. Andrew puts himself right in the thick of things and the climax of the novel really is heart-pounding. There's this feeling that anything could happen and things get perfectly wild and edgy and it's taut and everything a climax should be.
I had a hard time writing my review for this book because I could barely find the words to adequately give it justice. I was not expecting such a quietly powerful read. Once I got into the story, I could not put it down. The Comet Box transported me back to my childhood. While this is set in the late 80's and I grew up in the 90's, the atmosphere was still the same in essence. I felt like I was inside this novel and the scorching hot summer days, the neighbourhood BBQ's while parents gossiped about that bad seed who lives across the street. Adrian Stirling's ability to capture the everyday Australian life was fantastic.
Andrew thought he knew everything about everyone in the suburb of Merton. But as we're introduced to these characters and the veil is slowly dropped, Andrew learns he hardly knows anything at all. And sometimes, the truth isn't so glamorous. Six months ago, his sister, Amelia, ran away from home leaving only a name behind on her bedroom wall: Samantha Collins. And that's all Andrew knows of why his sister suddenly left their lives. Now, with Haley's Comet on it's way and a box of secrets inspiring the need for truth, everything Andrew thought he knew about the people around him is about to change forever.
This isn't action packed book, yet it had me on the edge of my seat the whole time as we learn more about each of these characters and uncover, piece by piece, their own hidden story. When Amelia returned, I formed my own theories of why she left. Why she didn't want to come back. Why she made those constant phone calls during her disappearance. Why she was so angry. But I didn't guess right until just before it was revealed and the aftershocks of this revelation were shockingly intense and so very REAL. I can't stress enough how 'real' this book felt, in that Stirling really dug deep and explored the human nature, the depths of these characters. There's a particular scene toward the end that made me shudder. It is so powerful and represents how out of control and twisted ones need for vengeance and justice can get.
The Comet Box showed brilliantly the effect in which holding on to someones mistakes in life and allowing that to fester inside you, unable to forgive them, unable to move forward with your own life, can have on the individual and the people around them. Holding onto those feelings and the blame and the betrayal, making you want to hurt those around you in your own form of justice, it was eye opening to read. And tragic, the way that darkness clouds the mind, the heart and hinders that person from ever really moving on in their life.
This book really made me pause and literally look outside my window at my neighbourhood. Despite how close you might be to those you live next door to or anyone, really, in your life - you never really know what happens in their private life when all the visitors have gone home. There is a secret behind every single door in your neighbourhood. Every single house in your city. And while you may think you want to know everything about those around you, sometimes you're better off not knowing. When people ask whether you'd always want to know the truth or prefer to be kept in the dark - many would say they want the cold, hard facts, no matter the price. I know I would have. But then I read this book and it made me question that need, that continual quest for answers that we seek. Sometimes blissful ignorance really is better than the consequences of the truth.
I can't sing enough praise about Stirling's fantastic ability to both capture the Australian suburban lifestyle and the very heart of his readers as he takes you on an incredibly moving experience that will stay with you long after you finish reading. The Comet Box is a thoroughly engaging novel, sprinkled with a nice touch of humour and such a compelling cast of characters who are so well-defined and feel so recognisable - you could literally walk outside and meet that kind of person on the street - all set in a wonderfully Australian environment. I highly recommend you give this a read!
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