Promise Me Happy by Robert Newton
Melbourne writer Robert Newton is well known to teenage readers. His colourful novel Runner, about a boy caught up in Squizzy Taylor’s 1920s underworld, is a staple of early secondary reading lists. More recently, When We Were Two garnered the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Young Adult Fiction.
Authenticity, integrity and humour are the hallmarks of Newton’s novels and these qualities are on full display in Promise Me Happy. On being released from juvenile detention, teenager Nate goes to live with a distant relative in the small coastal town of Oyster Bay. Shaking off his past isn’t easy – he was in for a violent robbery – but there is more generosity than judgment in this world and Nate is determined to stay on good footing. But it’s when Nate meets local girl Gem (‘She turns around when she hears me, and it’s like someone’s knocked the wind out of me’), life takes a new turn, and it doesn’t lead where you might expect.
Newton populates this laidback fishing town with some devastatingly charming characters, not least Nate’s crusty bachelor Uncle Mick and the irrepressible Henry, a jack-in-the-box kid who brings instant sunshine to the page. And there’s a local gang who want to test Nate’s temper to see just how tough he is.
Tender, funny and freighted with heartache, Promise Me Happy ensures that Robert Newton will remain a fixture for Australian readers now and in years to come. Highly recommended for readers aged 13+.