Book review: Holden Sheppard’s THE BRINK
A tension-filled, hormone-fuelled, school-leavers trip to hell and back!
Having read and reviewed Holden Sheppard’s debut novel INVISIBLE BOYS last year, I was truly excited when I heard that his second novel, THE BRINK, would soon be released. Just as soon as I saw it was available I placed an order and within a few days I had a copy in my hands. And as an added bonus, my copy had also been signed by the author!
I finished reading it just last night and I can honestly say that I wasn’t disappointed.
Much like his first effort, THE BRINK is an intense journey into themes such as sexuality, masculinity, mental health, addiction and identity. The story centres on a group of school leavers setting off on the ritual end of year “leavers” trip, ready to let their hair down; their minds set on sun, sex, parties, booze and anything else that comes their way. This is that time between school ending and the real world calling, where our plans and ideas about everyone and everything around us can be challenged and changed. And change it does.
Told largely from the different points of view of three of the main characters; the man’s man, Mason, who is secretly in love with his best mate Jared; Leonardo, the nerdy, asthmatic geek, who struggles with anxiety problems and doesn’t really fit in with this group anyhow; Kaiya, who is struggling beneath the pressure of being the perfect daughter while making up for her older sister’s mistakes, yet also having a desire to break out and do something her parents would be ashamed of, the story explores the bonds that keep them all together and the secrets and lies that threaten to tear them apart. But with their friends, including couples Jared and Val, Taylor and Ryan, newcomer Brayden and others along for the ride, will this group be able to withstand the drama that inevitably unfolds?
Shortly after setting off on their journey into adulthood a forced change of plans sends the group in search of a different location for their week of fun, where they soon find themselves set down upon Brink Island, an uninhabited dot of land just off the coast of Western Australia and adjacent to an off-grid settlement of people looking to escape mainstream society. The family of one of the school leavers has links to the area and so, with its few huts and basic amenities, the island proves to be an inviting getaway . . . at least to begin with.
They party hard and let their hair down, each giving in to their hedonistic desires, but when a local from the nearby off-grid settlement is found dead on the beach, however, that is when things begin to unravel. Friends turn on one another, secrets come out, and the teenagers grapple not just with the rapidly unfolding chaos around them, but also with their own inner- demons.
“… There’s a grown man lurking within me, a muscular monster hiding deep underground in the hot, molten mantle of my body. He is everything I’ve never let myself feel: anger, aggression, power, raw masculinity. I can feel him move sometimes, like a tremor in the earth’s crust. But I’m scared of what would happen if I let him out. I’m as scared of him as I am of dying.” (Leonardo / P. 16)
For Leonardo, who has spent his life torn between a traditional concept of masculinity, based on his often absent, fly-in-fly-out worker father, and a somewhat emasculated version generated to appease his late mother, who despised all things that represent the male of the species, there is confusion and anger simmering within. Is this his chance to finally break free, not only of his own self-doubts but also of his past friendship with Jared (which itself is now another source of anger) and forge an identity of his own? Or will the bubbling lava just beneath his skin explode like the volcano he feels is contained within?
Will Mason finally get his man? Will Kaiya give in to her desire to break free?
Friendships will be tested and in some cases shatter, which only adds to the tension, then when a second body is found, this time one of their own, that is when things descend even further into chaos. Blame is pointed in every direction, accusations are thrown around at whim, all in an effort to divert attention away from the real offender.
At times the story, for me at least, is reminiscent of scenes from Lord of the Flies, as all semblance of a civilised society appears lost. It is only when someone searches within and finds an inner strength they never knew they had that an end to the nightmare is in sight.
Sheppard’s writing is raw and honest and his depiction of the many struggles faced by teens is spot on. His handling of the mystery surrounding the deaths is well thought out, leaving you guessing. Sheppard’s stories stay with you long after you have turned the last page and I for one am looking forward to reading more of his work.
I thoroughly recommend this novel.
The Brink by Holden Sheppard
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication Date: May 2022
About the Creator
Mark 'Ponyboy' Peters
Aussie, Queer & Country
LGBT themed fiction with an Aussie flavour, reviews, observations and real life LGBT histories.
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