After a night of heavy partying, Tom hits rock bottom. Strung out on drugs and suffering from a concussion, Tom wakes up in the hospital to hear the news from Francesca, a former close friend, that his flatmates have lost their jobs for stealing from the Union pub and his stuff has been tossed out on the street.
At this point, Tom’s life has already fallen apart — his favorite uncle died in a terrorist bomb attack on the subway in London, his father, broken from the news, has started drinking heavily, and his mother and his sister have left his father. Unable to cope, Tom breaks the heart of the girl of his dreams and drops out of school. As his last resort, Tom moves in with Georgie, his single, pregnant aunt and gets a job washing dishes at the Union pub, working with his former friends.
However, all is not well here either. Georgie tries to set Tom on the right path while she struggles to learn to live with the father of her child (and his child with another woman). She's also dealing with the old grief of losing her father to the Vietnam War and the newer grief of losing her brother (Tom's uncle) in the terrorist attack. Tom’s father fights to control his alcoholism. Tom’s mother struggles to reconnect with Tom, and in the end, the extended family and Tom’s friends must laugh, cry and work to put everyone back together again.
The story is told in alternating chapters from both Tom’s and Georgie’s points of view, interspersed with brief flashbacks and text and e-mail messages between friends and family to flesh out the story. Even though the book does continue the story started in Saving Francesca, readers do not have to read the previous book to enjoy the extremely personal, messy and true-to-life experiences of Tom’s friends and family in Australia. The book is full of Australian patois; however, readers will not struggle with either the setting or the language, because the issues translate universally. The story contains dark moments including death, alcoholism, and broken hearts, and yet, there are laugh-out-loud moments, too.
Melina Marchetta an acclaimed young adult author in her native Australia with a hit teen movie and a high school required reading book, Looking for Alibrandi, is making a splash here in the United States, first with her Printz-winning Jellicoe Road in 2009 and now with this book and the Lumatere Chronicles.
Her passionate fans, who packed the house at a recent LA Teen Author Reading Night at Central Library, love her ability to show tender, real relationships between friends and family, complete with all the sass and back talk. Also appealing is her handling of the immigrant experience from a variety of generational viewpoints (even in her fantasy series), covering the issues of assimilation and cultural identification. Marchetta also includes flawed, yet loving parents and caretakers that guide their wayward teens; Marchetta’s teenagers do not exist in a vacuum with ineffective or non-existent adults, a popular trend in teen books.
The Piper’s Son appeals to both adults and older teenagers for its extremely frank talk about life, love and death. Saving Francesca, the prequel to this book, is a stand out where the smoldering love story is secondary to the issues Francesca’s fractured family deals with as Francesca’s mom battles depression. For fantasy readers, please do start with Finnikin of the Rock, which reads similarly to Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. Lastly, of course, one must relish the interwoven narrative layers of the Printz-winning Jellicoe Road. After finishing these books, readers will hope that Marchetta will finish the story started in Saving Francesca and tell all her fans where Jim Hailler has been.