I was in the middle of reading another book – a long, dense, important but mentally draining book – and decided to take a break and read Kill the Possum, knowing it would be a shorter read, something I could get through quickly. But if I was hoping for an easy read, I was sorely disappointed. This was a hard book to read. Not because of the writing but because of the story. This is every blended family teenager’s worst nightmare.
Dylan Kane is fifteen and has a crush on Kirsty Beal. They’ve been on a few dates and he’d like a few more. So one Sunday afternoon he decides to drop in on her unexpectedly. But he couldn’t have chosen a worse time. Sunday afternoons are when Kirsty’s ex-stepfather, Ian, drops her half-sister, Melanie, home from her weekend access visit. And while he’s there, Ian terrorises the Beals, including Kirsty’s little brother, Tim, and her mother, Ian’s former wife.
The abuse has been going on for years – physical, emotional, sexual – and Ian gets away with it thanks to his powerful policeman brother and his twist-everything-you-say-in-court lawyer. Tim, barely even a teenager, drinks to cope with it all. His mother takes sedatives. And Kirsty tries to stay strong, hoping that one day it will simply all end and Ian will get tired of his power games.
But the more Dylan sees, the more he wants to help. So he and Tim come up with a plan to steal Ian’s rifle and shoot him in his bed while he sleeps. But killing a man is difficult, morally at least. When Tim insists he be the one to kill Ian, Dylan tells him to practise by killing a possum he’s trapped. But Tim can’t. How can they kill a man, Dylan reasons, if they can’t even bring themselves to kill a possum?
Kill the Possum is a young adult book but it’s not for children or even younger teenagers. If I found it hard to read in my late thirties, I can only imagine how disturbing it might be for young minds still getting a grasp on right and wrong, especially those going through similar situations themselves.
The book is simple and at the same time powerful, intense, moving and with a shock ending that I didn’t see coming. I feel like I really should have seen it coming but I didn’t and that’s a credit to the author. There are quite a few typos, spelling and grammar issues that should have been picked up during the editing process and weren’t and that’s a discredit to the editor. Considering the book is meant for a younger audience, I would have hoped that a focus on these things was paramount as an example. Pretty unusual for a book from a publishing company as reputable as Penguin. But there’s not too much else wrong with it.
The book is also a commentary on parenting, particularly fatherhood. Kirsty’s real and much beloved father died a decade ago. Dylan’s father walked out on him and his mother before his first birthday and hasn’t seen him since then. Dylan hates his father with a passion for his absence, his irresponsibility, and particularly the fact that he has a new wife and three other children now. But is Dylan’s father’s crime as bad as the one that Ian is perpetrating on the Beals? Wasn’t he supposed to be their father figure? Isn’t he failing on a much grander scale by staying in their lives and making them perpetually afraid?
Read this book but be prepared. This isn’t a fairy tale or a morality tale or a fond look back at the innocence of youth. It’s gritty realism. And there is no happy ending. But there’s an honest ending, one that will stay with the reader forever.
*First published on Goodreads 5 May 2016