James Moloney gets us thinking about whether murder is ever justifiable

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I love to read books about gritty issues: books that really get you thinking about stuff. Kill the possum is certainly one of those books. I should confess, though, that what first drew me to this book was the cover, not the subject matter. I’m not usually a shelf-browser. I read about books in newspapers and magazines (especially Good Reading) or I see them on Amazon and then I go get them. But I had some time to kill at one of our branch libraries last week, so I spent some time walking the shelves. When I do browse shelves, at a book shop or a library, I’m a sucker for a good cover*. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by a cover, but really, why not?

Anyway, back to Kill the possum… So I picked it up because the cover caught my eye, and now I’m really glad the publisher did such a good job of designing the cover!

James Moloney is a stellar author for young people. Kill the possum is his latest novel and one of his most challenging, in the sense that it gets you thinking about some big issues.

Actually, I found parts of this book really disturbing. Not because of any graphic violence or weirdness, but because it got me thinking about something really, really tricky: is murder ever justifiable? Are there any circumstances in which plotting to kill someone is alright? I guess I was disturbed not so much by the story, but by the fact that it made me think – really think – about this issue. The question of whether the main characters, Dylan and Tim, are right in plotting to murder Tim’s ex-stepfather, Cartwright, is made even more difficult by how utterly despisable Cartwright is as a character, and how repulsive his behaviour is. He is a monster, and it’s easy to forget he’s a person, with feelings and beliefs and a right to live. But then there’s one place in the book where Moloney really paints Cartwright as a person – he makes him human. It’s a really tense scene (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there – I don’t want to ruin it for you!) and it made me start challenging my thinking about Cartwright and whether the boys were right or wrong in their quest to murder him.

I was also unnerved by the emotional and psychological abuse depicted in the book. I was struck by how damaging and lasting this type of abuse can be, and also by the fact that it is often invisible to the people around the victims. How do you prove it? How do you stop it if you can’t prove it? And what if you’re a bystander who has witnessed it and been drawn in to the web of despair it creates, but you’ve got no way of helping? Is murder the solution? Is violence a suitable weapon against violence, or can it only lead to more trauma?

In a five starred review, Good Reading magazine had this to say about Kill the possum:

The sustained tension keeps the reader on the edge as [the book] addresses the confronting themes of domestic violence and abuse in its most devious form. The storyline reflects perfectly the powerlessness of victims, and how injustice forces them to take the law into their own hands when the legal system fails to protect them.

The ending is unexpected and distressing and will keep you thinking about this amazing book for a long time to come.

Kill the possum is recommended for readers aged 15+. This is a book for guys and girls who want to engage with some meaty issues.

*In fact, even when I’m reading reviews or browsing Amazon, covers are what really sell a book to me.

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6 Responses to “James Moloney gets us thinking about whether murder is ever justifiable”

  1. RG Says:

    Graphic violence makes for very interesting fiction plots. However, is there any justification to senseless violence??

  2. Children’s Book Council of Australia Notable Books for 2009 - list now available! « blurb it Says:

    […] Kill the possum […]

  3. Kate (library staff) Says:

    Hmmm sadistic? Do you mean the story itself? Or the actions of some of the characters? You might be onto something… It certainly made me feel uncomfortable at times, but I guess I put that down to the issues it covered.

    I kinda liked the characters (but did want to shout at the boys to come up with a different solution)…

  4. Andrew Says:

    I thought Kill the Possum was an excellently-crafted pageturner…
    BUT I honestly can’t say that I enjoyed it at all. I found the characters unlikeable and almost unbelieveable. It was all a little too contrived, and somewhat sadistic. Not my cup of tea, thanks.

  5. jam (library staff) Says:

    Wow!!! I think I will have to add that to my reading list! Sounds like a great book…

  6. Ronnie Says:

    I really enjoyed Kill the Possum and Kirsty is an amazing character and I don’t know if I could be as strong a person as her. The thing that affected me the most was how much Kirsty just wanted to ‘be’ and not defined by what happens around her.
    If you have read any David Pelzer (A child called ‘it’) then this is a good book to try.

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