Books & Literature

Book Review: To and Fro, by Anton Clifford-Motopi

CHILDREN’S BOOK: Sam tries to understand what it means to be black in this funny Australian story about identity, family and friendship.

A story which may help someone deal with their own struggles with friendship and identity.

Feature image credit: Allen & Unwin

To and Fro is the debut novel from Australian author Anton Clifford-Motopi. Living in Brisbane, his hope is to write a story that will make children laugh, using his own experiences of having a Black identity and growing up in an adoptive family.

Twelve-year-old Sam lives with his mum and dog Trevor. He also has an interfering, opinionated nanna.  Unfortunately, Sam has spent his life feeling like he doesn’t fit in. His mother is white, but he is short and white with a huge afro. He keeps his hair long because it adds height which hopefully will stop him being bullied … not working though! Sam’s afro comes from his Black African father who apparently left Sam’s mum when she was pregnant.

Unfortunately, like many 12-year olds, Sam doesn’t feel like he fits in anywhere. He is white but maybe feels Black, he is at an age where his body is changing, and school just sucks — especially his teacher Mr Peacock. His friends Aiden and Charlee seem to have it all together. Especially Charlee, who is Indigenous Australian. His mum and nanna are REALLY annoying, homelife is also hard because they do not have much money and Sam resents his mother not feeding him properly and not being able to buy him the things that his friends have. He generally just has a huge chip on his shoulder about everything.

And so we begin to follow Sam as he navigates life, trying to work out where and even if he fits in, discovering who he really is along the way. He especially needs to work this out soon, as the school project Peacock has set is about who he is, and Sam is not sure what that means for him. Will he come to terms with his identity, especially when his father comes back into his life?

Some readers may immediately relate to Sam, also feeling like the whole world is against them. Problems with teachers, peers and family may be all too familiar. Others may not feel so compassionate, wondering why Sam feels so entitled all the time and has such a big chip on his shoulder, unable to be grateful for what he has. Sam never seems to be happy about anything and always finds fault. It is hard to read about the way he treats his mother, but this may give pause to some who have yet to understand the power of their words.

To and Fro is well written and it is hard not to feel something for the main character. There are lighter moments which make us laugh, and it really does feel like it could be the story of a 12-year-old boy.

There is a lot of material in To and Fro to create a stimulating and honest discussion in a family or classroom situation. This story could either help someone recognise their own feelings, or maybe help them to acknowledge that others may be going through something similar to Sam and offering understanding and a friendly ear.

However you may react to To and Fro, it is nonetheless a book which will enable the reader to realise that we all are going thorough “stuff” and maybe we can all become a little more tolerant.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: March 2024
RRP: $17.99

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