Books

Gary Lonesborough
The Boy from the Mish

The Boy from the Mish is a tender portrait of teenage sexuality that disrupts the white male gaze in Western storytelling. Gary Lonesborough’s debut young adult novel arose from the lack of YA stories “centred around an Aboriginal teen coming to terms with their sexuality”. This book adds to the existing body of queer Blak literature, which has flourished in recent years.

We follow Lonesborough’s central character Jackson, as his self-awareness develops from hesitant innocence – “I can feel my voice trembling, like a baby deer taking its first steps” – to affirmation – “coming out makes me nervous but not in a bad way anymore”.

Racism pervades the fictional town of The Mish, damaging Aboriginal communities. Within this social landscape, Lonesborough normalises Jackson’s emerging queer identity in ways that avoid making him a token minority figure for white literary culture, which has a tendency to fetishise diversity. Jackson’s growing awareness of his same-sex attraction shifts honestly from denial, covert desire to excited curiosity, avoiding stereotypes or performing the trauma that some people expect from a young Aboriginal character.

This book deviates from the common “coming out” narrative in which queer characters are forced to fight for acceptance in a hostile environment of shame and disapproval from family and peers. As others discover Jackson’s attraction to the mysterious Tomas, it’s refreshing that the two teenagers are not demonised with horrendous consequences but gradually shown respect. In a moving conversation, his Uncle Charlie tells him that “we’re all connected, despite our differences”, reassuring his nephew that his attraction to Tomas doesn’t separate him from family and culture. This offers a hopeful and far more nuanced understanding of the process of coming out.

Importantly, Lonesborough also avoids the page-turning action that is supposed to engage younger audiences in our content-saturated lives. In its place, he constructs a compelling narrative through intimate insights into Jackson’s psyche. Lonesborough conveys Jackson’s relationship to his close friends and other teens through conversational prose, revealing to great effect the voices and attitudes of young people.

The novel’s pull is shaped by the pleasure of watching Jackson take tentative steps towards self-acceptance and emerge both proud and accepted by his community, a growth that’s depicted with restraint rather than sensationalism. Witnessing two young Aboriginal men acknowledge their love is a joy and likely to appeal to readers of all ages, while affirming young, queer First Nations people whose stories have up to now been absent from YA fiction.

Timmah Ball

A&U Children, 288pp, $19.99

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 27, 2021 as "Gary Lonesborough, The Boy from the Mish".

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Timmah Ball is a non-fiction writer of Ballardong Noongar descent.