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waywerollApril 2016 Discussion – Young Adult – The Way We Roll by Scot Gardner

The Way We Roll Teacher Notes

About the book: Will went to private school, and Julian went to juvie. Will is running from a family secret, and Julian is running from the goat next door. The boys meet pushing trolleys, and they find a common enemy in the Westie hoons who terrorise the carpark.  After a few close calls, Will has to nut up and confront his past. But on the way, he learns a few things about what it means to be a friend – and what it means to be family. The Way We Roll is a rattling urban bromance made of plastic and stainless steel. Brace yourself.

About the author: Scot’s first fiction for young adults, One Dead Seagull, was published after he attended a writing camp with John Marsden. More than a decade later, his many books have found local and international favour and garnered praise and awards for their honest take on adolescent life. They include books like White Ute Dreaming, Burning Eddy and most recently Happy as Larry, winner of a WA Premier’s Book Award for young adult fiction, and The Dead I Know, winner of the CBCA Book of the Year Award for Older Readers.

The Discussion:  Many of us are Scot Gardner fans so had been looking forward to this with great anticipation. The general feedback was that while most of us enjoyed the book it did not have the same impact on us that his earlier writings had had. Burning Eddy was a particular favourite for some whereas others felt that The Dead I Know was an extraordinary piece of writing. The greatest disappointment for many of us was that it felt too short and there were lots of elements in the novel that could have been explored in greater depth.  We had many questions that we would have liked answered.  We wanted to know more about Julian’s parents’ relationship; the relationship between Claire and Will and the other character’s back stories. There is a great deal alluded to but not fleshed out and while that is probably deliberate, we wanted more.

What we loved about this was the exploration of character. Gardner effortlessly seems to build complete characters that are typically Australian, without being clichéd. He is so very good at revealing the markers of Australian society of class and social constructs. Will is a very interesting study in white privilege.  He has had an entitled background exhibiting the speech and mannerisms of someone who is very well-mannered, not arrogant, but used to being treated as someone important. The backgrounds of the other characters are also shown through their mannerisms and speech. In this novel we are exposed to a wide variety of speech registers – from Will’s educated, polite tones, to Julian and Joanie’s rougher colloquial patterns and Jelat and Tefari’s use of English as a Second Language.

We thought that using the situation of the trolley boys in the supermarket as a setting was very clever and it was commented that we might look at the people at our own supermarkets in a different light after this. The occupation of trolley collector, as Gardner shows, is one of those invisible jobs that we all see in everyday life but really take for granted and gloss over. As one of the shopkeepers notes,

We shopkeepers love your work even if nobody else does.

It is an unskilled and often thankless job, frequently held by those who are new to the country. Yet the characters come from such a wide variety of backgrounds and, as with all human beings, each with their own unique story. Although it is a very public job it is ironically the perfect place for a young man to be invisible and in hiding from his ‘normal’ society. Will’s natural intelligence shines through and his attempt to remain invisible from mainstream society, by always blending in and remaining under the radar, is fascinating.  He is clearly someone who understands and watches people. It made us stop and think about how many other people go through their days unnoticed.

Some time was spent discussing the varied themes of this novel and we talked about the quote from Gardner,

I think the bromance is the major theme—how guys from very different backgrounds can become the best of friends. It dances on the line between brotherly love and homosexuality. At its heart, it whispers about love and money, honesty, identity and forgiveness. Will and Julian have endured blighted childhoods and dealt with them in different ways.

The friendship, or ‘bromance’ that develops between Will and Julian is delightful and we felt it was quite reflective of the way young males express their friendship in modern society. We discussed how the friendship began with a fight with both boys having a tendency to fight first, talk later. We learn throughout the book that Julian’s decision to act has had serious consequences for him; he has spent time in juvie for his actions, even if they appear to be justified. Yet Will understands that violence is never the right choice,

There was a huge fountain of hormones and history that made me feel like smashing my father, but the hormones and history don’t do the punching. Violence is a choice.

We learn that both Will and Julian have a right to be angry but it is in controlling their anger that they learn their greatest lessons.

We were very curious about the presentation of fathers in this novel.  Will’s father and his father’s reputation are alluded to early in the novel but we do not get to know very much about him until the great betrayal is revealed. He is a powerful man who is used to throwing money at any situation that disrupts his privileged lifestyle. Sandy and Julian, in contrast, have an open warmth and honesty in their relationship. Will may have had money and privilege but he has experienced very little love in his life after the death of his mother. There are no intact nuclear families in this novel; Julian and Duane’s parents are divorced (although very civil and loyal to each other), Will is isolated from his family, there is violence in Joanie’s family and Nishi has grown up in foster care. We talked about whether or not we believed this was an accurate representation of Australian families. By spending time with Julian’s family Will manages to construct his own ideas of what love and family mean. Being around people who do love and care for him and model that behaviour gives Will the strength to stand up to his father and Claire and also to reunite with his sister.

It was felt by all of us that the blurb on this book was misleading.

Will is running from a family secret, and Julian is running from the goat next door. The boys meet pushing trolleys, and they find a common enemy in the Westie hoons who terrorise the carpark.

Many of us were expecting an ongoing battle with a goat and really it is only in one little scene. Equally, we were expecting the Westie hoons who again, whilst being significant to the story development, to have a much more detailed role.  We are seeing a common trend in novels where the blurb really tells you very little about the essence of the book and instead sensationalises one little element.

This book has a great deal of merit and there was much to discuss: lies and secrecy; family bonds, masculinity; racial vilification, prejudice, opportunity, loyalty, commitment. We all agreed that the main strength in this book is its characterisation.  We loved the character of Joanie and her understanding of her workers and also her comprehension that both Will and Julian had to go back to school to make something of themselves. This book is recommended for 12+ but we felt that the sexual references and swearing would probably make it a little higher – year 9 or 10 perhaps.  There is a lot of swearing but it was commented that it is mentioned so naturally and appropriately as part of the language patterns of the young men that it almost goes by unnoticed.

Overall a great read but we wanted more.