Nikki Buick University of Queensland Press Published 24th September 2014 Thank you to University of Queensland Press for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not influence my review in any way.
Hunter James is on the roadtrip from hell. His mother has dragged him out of his school in Brisbane, away from his friends, his Xbox and Facebook, up the Queensland coast with his ten-year-old sister who has Down syndrome, his new stepfather ‘Step’ and the new baby. Still dealing with the fall out of his parents’ divorce and emotionally recovering from an accident that changed his family, Hunter could not think of anything worse. His mum likes to pretend they’re such a happy family but Hunter knows better. After a while he realises it’s not all bad – he parties with backpackers on the beach, gets up close with some wild animals and meets a girl who might actually understand him – but eventually he will have to face the reality of why his mum decided to undertake this journey in the first place.
I have mixed feelings about Sandy Feet. I mostly enjoyed it, but it falls short of being a four or five star read for me and I can’t put my finger on why. I thought the examination of stepfamilies, the guilt that children caught between two parents and the use of those children as ‘weapons’ for one parent to hurt another was insightful and realistic. Stepfamilies aren’t always happy families and I actually applaud Hunter for building the courage to confront his mother on a touchy subject that had been avoided in their house. We see that this isn’t easy for him because of his desire to protect his mum, but through all her talk of supposedly ‘protecting’ her children from their father she had just hurt Hunter in particular and driven a wedge into their relationship. He had suffered a lot through the three years it had been since he had seen his father and when we eventually found out why a part of me sympathised with Hunter’s mother but she had also completely disregarded her son’s feelings on the matter. This is the trouble with parents sometimes, they are not able to see when their children grow into young adults with thoughts, feelings and opinions of their own. The attitude of Hunter’s mother frustrated me even when I could understand where she was coming from. As for Step, I didn’t think much of him at all but he didn’t seem to understand that as a stepparent coming into Hunter’s life in his mid-teens Hunter couldn’t be won over the way his sister could and felt he couldn’t have a new dad forced upon him.
The story felt a bit repetitive at times, lots of driving and driving and some flashbacks and arguments with his mum and Hunter having trouble dealing with the things that had happened in his family. But I guess that’s life isn’t it? Life can be repetitive and sometimes it just goes around and around and leaves you feeling stuck in a rut, the way I think Hunter felt when no one addressed the problems he was having with the situation. I thought the friendship and sort-of-fling with Sophie was realistic – it wasn’t true love, he was only sixteen and he was going home to Brisbane. He just accepted it for what it was and he wasn’t too heartbroken over it, but she was there when he needed her and she encouraged him gently – you could feel that he appreciated that.
I shed a couple of tears, just at the end, because I think families are so important, especially when you’re young and you don’t always want to acknowledge them. Hunter’s family had suffered through difficult times and yet you always felt as if they cared about each other, even when they didn’t like each other. The ending left me with a very warm feeling! I enjoyed this book.