Deadly Unna? – Phillip Gwynne

Deadly Unna? – Phillip GwynneDeadly, Unna? by Phillip Gwynne
Published by Penguin Books Pages: 273
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'Deadly, unna?' He was always saying that. All the Nungas did, but Dumby more than any of them. Dumby Red and Blacky don't have a lot in common. Dumby's the star of the footy team, he's got a killer smile and the knack with girls, and he's a Nunga. Blacky's a gutless wonder, needs braces, never knows what to say, and he's white. But they're friends... and it could be deadly, unna? This gutsy novel, set in a small coastal town in South Australia is a rite-of-passage story about two boys confronting the depth of racism that exists all around them.

As I often am, I’m a little late to this reading party. It was in some boxes of books I was given from a deceased estate, although I suspect the person giving them to me had emptied their house of books as well and this one came from their children. But I’m not going to speculate any more about this out loud today, and hopefully not again.

Phillip Gwynne came to writing late in life, at the ripe old age of 35! So old, I say! This book was his first book and I’m hoping the rest of them are just as good and explore issues in the same way, making it easier for children and young adults to understand that things sometimes have shades of grey.

I had been told it explored issues of race, but completely forgot this when I opened the book. I was hooked from the first page and it was only on page three that I suddenly remembered which issues it covered. This brought it back to me with a big shock and made me glance through the first couple of pages again, but didn’t change how I felt about the book. Those feelings continued all the way through.

Gwynne has very cleverly taken me back to the 1970s when Polywaffles were all the rage (I’m being very grateful he didn’t depict an unwrapped Polywaffle in the swimming pool) and when some people were just starting to think of Indigenous as people. The book is set only a few years after the Referendum in 1967 when Indigenous were finally recognised as people. Essentially, people were beginning to think for themselves and that is part of what this book shows. The interesting thing to note is the Australian Indigenous already had the right to vote before the referendum, this happened between 1962 and 1965. The referendum changed very little as racism continued to happen and that’s one important thing this book shows. It also shows how it’s possible for someone to come to a changing of the mind. Having read this book I haven’t changed my mind, I still don’t like football.

In case you haven’t read this book and your young adults don’t have it on their shelf this link takes you straight through to buy the book. It is well worth reading. I probably won’t be keeping an eye out for the sequel, it apparently has a romantic bent to it. I don’t like football and I don’t like romance, two things challenging to avoid with an Australian young adult book.

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