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The choke by Sofie Laguna
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The choke (edition 2017)

by Sofie Laguna

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471347,036 (4.32)3
Member:Mylady
Title:The choke
Authors:Sofie Laguna
Info:Crows Nest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 2017.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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The Choke by Sofie Laguna

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Justine Lee is a little girl surrounded by males. Justine's mother abandoned the family many years ago, and her father Ray is in and out of his children's lives, leaving the main responsibility for raising Justine and her brothers to their grandfather. When Ray is around his criminal involvement is something that Justine, in particular, struggles with. She retreats to her sanctuary in The Choke on the Murray River to hide from the world, and seeks solace in the company of her Pop's chooks. In both places there's no judgement, no demands and no brutality.

Set in two distinct blocks, THE CHOKE starts out around 1971, when Justine is a 10 year old girl, and school is a turbulent place, except when it comes to her best friend - a disabled boy whose parents are supportive of both kids, a friendship without demands, and mutually supportive. Moving three years into the future, still reeling from events triggered by her father, 13 year old Justine is a vulnerable kid, naive and struggling with too many bad things happening to one little girl.

THE CHOKE isn't easy reading. Laguna has created a magnificent character in Justine Lee. Her voice is clear and utterly convincing. So much so that the sense of dread and fear over her ultimate fate is difficult to deal with. She's also created a sympathetic and very understandable man in Pops - somebody struggling with PTSD and his own demons, trying to do his best by his young granddaughter. His desire to keep her close to family, to keep her out of care is beautifully contrasted with the external viewpoint, where the options might appear more clear-cut. Against these two ultimately sympathetic characters, there's father Ray, a thoroughly noxious creature, absent aunts, cousins and family connections.

Supporting all of these characters is a strong sense of place - many kids growing up in country areas will know too well the "special places" that we find. The hidey-holes, the sanctuaries carved out in quiet corners, away from the adult world, or even siblings, hidden, private and safe. The passage of seasons, time, the impact of weather patterns, the animals, birds, flowers and natural features of those areas are often our consolation and our teachers, and Laguna gets that pitch perfect in this novel.

There's much in this book that's confronting and discomforting, and it's not straight forward reading, but it's worthwhile reading, digging into 1970's Australian rural life, dysfunctional families, and adult behaviour that has lasting consequences.

https://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/choke-sofie-laguna ( )
  austcrimefiction | Jul 4, 2018 |
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I never had words to ask anybody the questions, so I never had the answers. Abandoned by her mother and only occasionally visited by her secretive father, Justine is raised by her pop, a man tormented by visions of the Burma Railway. Justine finds sanctuary in Pop's chooks and The Choke, where the banks of the Murray River are so narrow it seems they might touch - a place of staggering natural beauty. But the river can't protect Justine from danger. Her father is a criminal, and the world he exposes her to can be lethal. Justine is overlooked and underestimated, a shy and often silent observer of her chaotic world. She learns that she has to make sense of it on her own. She has to find ways to survive so much neglect. She must hang on to friendship when it comes, she must hide when she has to, and ultimately she must fight back. The Choke is a brilliant, haunting novel about a child navigating an often dark and uncaring world of male power and violence, in which grown-ups can't be trusted and comfort can only be found in nature. This compassionate and claustrophobic vision of a child in danger and a society in trouble celebrates above all the indomitable nature of the human spirit. Sofie Laguna, winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Eye of the Sheep, once again shows she is a writer of rare empathy, originality and blazing talent.… (more)

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