Books & Literature

Book Review: That Thing I Did, by Allayne L. Webster

YOUNG ADULT: Five misfits hit the road in a haunted hearse, on a madcap road-trip from their prison-bordering suburb behind the ‘Mullet-Proof Fence’ to small-town Mount Gambier.

Suspend your belief in reality as you go on a road trip with an odd assortment of people travelling in a hearse.

CW: Mention of suicide

Allayne Wester is an internationally published author.  She writes books for young adults and children and has been shortlisted for many awards. That Thing I Did is her ninth book and was written to appeal to reluctant teenage readers.

This is the story of a road trip with an assorted group of people. Taylor is struggling with life because he put something online which caused a falling out with his Year 11 high school friends. He wants to write obituaries when he leaves school. Nineteen-year-old Chip, his next-door neighbour, wants to make porn movies. He has dreams of getting into the industry, “smokes” Chupa Chups, and talks to dead people. He also drives a hearse with a dodgy provenance. Jackson has just escaped from Yatala prison because he wants to see his 77-year-old grandmother before she dies. Daisy, the grandmother, wants to visit her ex-husband in Mount Gambier, so they help her escape from her nursing home. Dressed all in black, Chloe joins the group at the service station, which she has just robbed. And so, this rag-tag group sets off for a three-day trip to Mount Gambier.

Allayne Webster tells us that this novel was written “to be entertaining and provide comedic relief in the era of Covid and global uncertainty.” The reader certainly needs to suspend their belief in reality as the scenarios get more and more ridiculous!

Along the way they meet an assortment of people, but it is Daisy’s sometimes crazy (but more often than not perfect) words of wisdom to the young people in the hearse that give us pause to reflect. They are words to give the young people hope.

This story teaches us that we all need to be true to ourselves and do what is best for us. Things are not always as bad as they seem in the moment. We need to tell our truth and maybe call out other people’s behaviour. And, a true friend allows you to be you.

Yes, this story is funny, sometimes bordering on the ridiculous, but five people from totally different backgrounds who should have nothing whatsoever in common are able to discover a common ground. They also realise how important it is to sometimes just listen.

At 320 pages, it is a fairly long read for those who rarely pick up a book, but That Thing I Did is well written and never gets bogged down with repetition, as is sometimes the case. It also moves along at a fast pace, which would keep the more reluctant reader interested. Not all characters have finished their story by the end of the book, and the reader may wonder about their fate. There are also some difficult topics covered, like suicide, and the dark side of social media, along with first love, older love, consent, old age, drinking and the prison system.

Set squarely in South Australia, local readers will recognise many of the landmarks in Adelaide, on the road to the South East, and then in Mount Gambier.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or a crisis, please reach out immediately to Lifeline on 13 11 14. Alternatively, you can find helpful resources at Beyond Blue.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Released: March 2022
RRP: $24.95

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