The Choke by Sofie Laguna
PUBLISHED BY ALLEN & UNWIN
REVIEW BY KRIS WILLIAMS
I loved this book. Drawn in by Laguna’s writing, it wasn’t hard to become immersed in Justine’s world and want to protect and save her.
The Choke is set in small town rural Australia. Justine lives on a farm beside the Murray River with her pop, who is haunted by his time on the Burma Railway, and his chooks. Pop has raised Justine since she was three, when her mother abandoned her and her father left.
Justine is a shy, neglected ten-year-old living in a world of men including two half-brothers who are often crude and violent. It is a credit to Laguna’s writing that you can feel the air of menace that permeates the pages of the book as you are reading it.
For Justine the world is often dark and uncaring. There is no one to help her make sense of it or where she belongs: "I never had words to ask anybody the questions, so I never had the answers," she says. Apart from very occasional visits from her aunt, her only escape is the Choke, a place on the Murray River not far from the farm where the banks almost touch. The Choke is where she feels safe, where she can live in her fantasy world where nothing bad happens.
Her father is a criminal who returns to visit, and in doing so exposes Justine to an act of such shocking violence that sends him to jail. The only good to come out of it is her friendship with Michael, but the fallout has a devastating impact on Justine’s adolescence.
While the book seems to be full of desperation and menace, Laguna writes with emotion and empathy and offers hope. This is one of the best books I have read so far this year and one that will stay with me for a while to come.
Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.