Sunday, February 14, 2016

Review: Bro by Helen Chebatte

Firstly, thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for this review copy <3


Date Read: February 11-14
Date Released: February 01 2016
Publisher: Hardie Grant Egmont
Source: Review copy via publisher
Genre: Contemporary
My Rating:

"Romeo knows the rules.
Stick with your own kind. Don’t dob on your mates, or even your enemies.
But even unwritten rules are made for breaking.
Fight Clubs, first loves and family ties are pushed to their limit in Helen Chebatte’s explosive debut novel."


I’m a bit conflicted on how I feel about Bro. On one hand I thought it could be an accurate depiction of teenage high school life and the racial issues we are STILL dealing with in Australia. On the other hand I felt it was really stupid to be so largely centred on a fight club.

At first glance, main character Romeo “Romes” Makhlouf has no trouble with cultural identity. He sees himself as Leb (Lebanese) because he eats Lebanese food, has a Lebanese family and hangs out with his ‘bros’ who are all Lebanese. But his mother was Australian (of Anglo-Celtic descent I assume) and as the book progresses I could see how he’s raised the question before of what it means to be Australian. He got on well with everybody and is the type of person that doesn’t want to cause trouble. Poor kid gets stuck in a lot of dilemmas – do the right thing or defend his bros? It’s a hard decision to make and for teenagers who are at that stage in life where they feel they have a reputation to uphold at school, stupid things will ensue. I definitely felt bad for him because he gets dragged into so much shit by his friends, the other racial groups at school, and even runs into girl problems. But Romes my man, get a spine and learn to speak up for yourself. Yeah I get it – high school equals peer pressure. Which is a serious problem and it sucks.

Secondary characters wise I loved Romeo’s best friend Diz. Diz is this really chill kid who’s always there for Romeo. He always manages to say the right thing for the situation, has a smile or a joke for you and is the kind of best friend I wish I had. Diz is also obsessed with Oprah. LOVE. HIM. Not that I watch Oprah but I think it’s cool that he gives no fucks because he likes what he likes. He’s probably my fav in the story. Then there are all the guys who fit into the racial groups (mainly Lebs, ‘Ozzies’ and ‘Fobs’) and are the epitome of high school idiocy with their need to be manly and tough. These sort of guys pissed the hell out of me and I’ll be honest, they’re the kind I’d stay away from when I was in high school. They’re freaking teens and they’re getting into punch ups and attacking each other after school. What the actual eff? Maybe I’m too far removed from high school now to understand. The relationship I really appreciated was the one between Romeo and his grandmother. I liked that he respected her and it’s ingrained into their culture. If he ever snapped at her he apologised and I could just see that he really loved her - no need to hide it. As someone who respects my elders as that’s how I was brought up, I really like to read about other kids brought up this way.

Sooooo the romance. It was cute. Kind of. Romes gets pretty whipped though *cracks whip* I wasn’t too pleased with the love interest. She was indecisive (again is this me being too old to understand high school drama?) and basically is the cause of a fight. I didn’t see her try to do anything about it except text Romeo if he’s ok. She doesn’t tell the other guy off. I just… Wow cannot even. I really needed more character development and dimension on her part. I think overall there was a lack of character development – so many people I couldn’t keep track with lots of surface mentions and not enough detail.

Anyway there’s a fight club. That's the main plot. It’s stupid. The whole idea of a fight club is stupid but these guys have race against race. Like a Leb versus an Ozzie. Or Fob versus Leb. If that didn’t drive the already tense racial issues, then I don’t know what does. And the guys glorify it. Does this really happen in schools? It probably does sadly. I’m not sure how I feel about using this a plot device. Racial tension was enough to be honest. On the topic of that it was sad to see how high school kids still separate themselves. What I’m assuming to be the ones of British decent were the Ozzies (true Australians? Please) and everybody else was categorised according by their culture/background. Nononono. As one of the characters so correctly put it “You’re all Australian. You put each other down for having different backgrounds but your different backgrounds are what make Australia today.”

The teachers don’t help either. There’s this one teacher in the book who actually seems to pick on Romeo a lot and is a poor teacher in general – the kind that just reads from a textbook, makes you copy stuff from overhead projectors and doesn’t explain. The reality is that teachers like that do exist. She totally disregards that Romeo is half-Anglo and assumes he knows how to read Arabic. How is she a teacher again? Yay more school issues, as if the students weren’t enough of a problem.

Well this was a mess of a review and it shows all my jumbled thoughts about this book. Chebatte gives us a glimpse of the male high school life - an MC who’s struggling with typical teen issues and cultural identity, egged on by increasing racial tensions at school, a lot of side characters and a stupid fight club that has everything going down in shit. Welcome to Australia?

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