Deadly Unna? by Philip Gwynne 1998
IQ "What had Dazza said? Play with fire and ya gunna get burnt. Maybe, Dazza, but not burnt to death." Blacky pg. 228
Dumby Red is a Nunga (Aboriginal), Blacky is white. Dumby is the star of the footy team, Blacky isn't the most aggressive player. Dumby is popular, Blacky is not. They don't seem to have much in common, but they're friends. In Australia, Aboriginals and white people are not friends, they stick to their 'sides' (Aboriginals at the Point, Blacky at the Port). The friendship between Blacky and Dumby is a problem, the question is: how big of a problem?
This book just moved too slowly for me. Also contrary to the description on the back of the book, this book did not talk much about the friendship between Dumby Red and Blacky. It talked more about the racial tensions between Aboriginals and white Australians, which is fine. I just had a hard time understanding the friendship between Blacky and Dumby Red, since it wasn't touched upon that much (they were odd friends). This is one of those books where it's hard for me to put a finger on why I didn't love this book exactly. I think it was a combination of the book moving too slowly and being annoyed with the main character. It was interesting because unlike books I've read set in the UK that are easy to understand based on context, this book was much more confusing. I had to look up what footy is because it sounded like soccer (or football) but they used their hands to tackle and grab the ball. However, I don't hold this against the book, but it did make it an even slower read because I wanted to be sure I understood what was going on.
Blacky has a humorous voice and that is the only thing that kept me reading. Not much seems to happen in the book, it's mostly about day to day life in Australia with some random racial issues and footy competitions. I wasn't as much of a fan at some of the crass humor in the book (a lot more than I'm used, mostly dealing with male body parts) but I just moved past it. Blacky is torn between following the crowd and doing what he thinks is right by not discriminating against Nungas. Blacky makes many sharp observations about the world around him and the hypocritical nature of the adults and white people in his life. I was quite surprised by how terribly the Aboriginals were treated since the book is set in the late 20st century. I knew they must have been treated badly early on, but they were still mostly ignored and racial slurs were made openly. It was an eye opening read to a part of the world that we learn absolutely nothing about.
Deadly Unna? isn't laugh out loud funny but there are many scenes that will leave you with an amused smile on your face. I would recommend it but especially to American readers, who may not have known about how Aboriginals are discriminated against (I certainly didn't know about it, some incidents are almost worse than things that occur in America!). I would also say it's a great book to introduce Americans to parts of Australian culture. I loved learning about footy and learning about Australian culture. Blacky's family is a riot (except for his father, grrr) while his friends are kind of annoying. I do intend on reading the sequel (Nukkin Ya) because I think it will touch even more upon racial issues in Australia. By the way, this book was made into a movie called Australian Rules.
Disclosure: Received from Justine Larbalestier. Thank you so much Justine!
PS Next month I will do a feature about POC books published in Australia, please email me with suggestions because I don't even know where to start!