Saltwater Boy

Bradley Christmas

Saltwater Boy
Walker Books Australia
8 March 2023

Saltwater Boy

Bradley Christmas

Heartfelt and poignant, this coming of age story explores father-son relationships, against a backdrop of small town rivalries, buried truths, with themes of sustainability, preserving the past and environmental care.

When Dad goes to jail, Matthew and his mum move to the coast, so mum - an artist - thinks she can renovate her late father’s old place to sell it to get them back on their feet. Matthew strikes up a friendship with Old Bill, an Indigenous man who becomes a father figure to him, and teaches him how to find and eat pippis, fish (and to make a few dollars from it). Dad gets out on parole and moves back in with the family, but his anger fractures the newfound peace and everything is once again at stake, and in peril.


Matthew’s life is pretty complicated. His dad is in jail and his mum is struggling to pay the bills. So, together, Matthew and his mum head up the coast to fix up his grandparents’ house in the hope of selling it and then returning to the city. At first, Matthew just wants to go home to the city and his old life. But then he meets Old Bill, and Crawley Beach starts to feel less temporary. Bill teaches him to fish, and how to preserve the environment. But then Matthew’s dad gets out of jail and won’t let him see Bill anymore. And suddenly everything goes horribly wrong.

I honestly can’t believe this is Bradley Christmas’s first novel. Although it’s not fast paced, I didn’t feel the need to skim, I was completely absorbed in the story. Matthew is such a gorgeous protagonist. We see him grow from a quiet, often thoughtless boy to someone with so much empathy, who stands up for what he believes in. I also love when each side character has their own arc, and Christmas delivers this perfectly.

There are a lot of themes packed into Saltwater Boy: domestic violence, loss, grief, disability, bullying, Indigenous rights, racism, toxic masculinity and so much more. But by showing everything through Matthew’s perspective, Christmas never makes the reader feel overwhelmed. And although there are a lot of morals to find in the story, Christmas never talks down to the reader. Instead, he inspires you to get out into nature and also to preserve and respect the environment.

This is a truly touching story about friendship, family, and protecting our environment. I can see this being studied in schools. Perfect for ages 10+.

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