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BOOK REVIEW: Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina

| 23 September 2018 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: Catching Teller Crow by Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Allen & Unwin
August 2019
Paperback, $19.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Young Adult / Paranormal / Cultural Australia



Nothing’s been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her – and he’s drowning in grief. But now they have a mystery to solve together. Who is Isobel Catching, and what’s her connection to the fire that killed a man? What happened to the people who haven’t been seen since the fire? As Beth unravels the mystery, she finds a shocking story lurking beneath the surface of a small town, and a friendship that lasts beyond one life and into another. 

Told in two unforgettable voices, this gripping novel weaves together themes of grief, colonial history, violence, love and family.



‘I died in a stupid accident.’
She frowned. ‘But you’re stuck.’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘You’re still here, aren’t you? Like you’ve got unfinished business. If you weren’t murdered, why are you so crap at being dead?’
‘I am not! Besides, there’s no good way to be dead.’
‘Yeah, there is. It’s called moving on. To what’s next.’
‘Um, maybe this is my what’s next.’
‘Can’t be, because it’s your what was.’

Catching Teller Crow is a very powerful book with lots of important comments on grief and moving on; the stolen generations in Australia; the treatment of women; and the racism and prejudices that those descended from white settlers can often direct at those or aboriginal descent, whether in an actively damaging role or as bystanders who don’t do anything to speak up against the injustice.

He pretty much took all injustice personally, but especially anything to so with Aboriginal people not being treated right. And as he’d told me a thousand times over, growing up in his father’s town had taught him that one person in power could do bad things, but it took lots of people to let those bad things continue.
Dad didn’t want to be one of the people who didn’t pay attention.

And all that in under 200 pages.

The story alternates between chapters from Beth Teller’s point of view, and Isobel Catching’s point of view.

Beth’s chapters are a little naive and do lots of telling and little showing, unfortunately, but there is a kind of logic to be found in this. Beth is the ghost of a detective’s daughter, sticking around to make sure he’s okay and help him with his latest case.

My science teacher said that just because two things happened together didn’t mean one was because of the other, or as she put it: ‘correlation does not imply causation’.
But Dad said that was scientist-talk not police-talk, and if two things happened together you’d suspect the first thing had caused the second until it could provide you with an alibi.

She lived a rather sheltered life, with a large aboriginal family surrounding her after her father’s parents excommunicated him when he started dating Beth’s mum. She’s never experienced the way aboriginal people are treated in some communities, and so she makes a good intro point for readers who also might not be aware.

Dad raised an eyebrow. ‘Catching? That’s an unusual last name.’
She shrugged. ‘My great-great-grandma was good at catching stray cattle, so the white boss called her Catching. Wasn’t like she could say no, back then.’
Dad blinked. ‘You’re Aboriginal?’
Her lip curled. ‘What, you think I’m not brown enough? You think all Aboriginal people are the same colour?

Though at times this didn’t feel so much like she was the fifteen-and-a-half she was supposed to be, but perhaps closer to twelve.

‘Relax, Teller. I won’t tell him I can see you.’
‘Really. I told you what I think, because that’s what friends do. Now I’ll keep your secret. That’s what friends do too.’
I wondered if Catching had a list of rules written down somewhere of how to be friends. I’d never met anyone like her. I didn’t think there was anyone like her. ‘Thanks.’

But perhaps it is down to her naivete and the slow dawning of just what exactly is going on here, that the book comes together into such a strong package. There are topics in this book that definitely wouldn’t be suitable or potentially wouldn’t even make sense to that younger age-group, so Teller’s young emotional age might bother some of the target age group.

Catching’s chapters are in verse. They’re so evocative, powerful, and strange, and they absolutely make this book. These chapters in verse does need something in the form of narrative to really make sense of them, which is where Beth’s chapters come in. But these chapters really are the most powerfully written parts of this book.

He keeps his gaze on mine. Rears back.
Pushes aside the clothes covering my stomach.
His fingers press below my belly button.
My flesh tears in two.
I scream.
Only my mouth doesn’t work.

He holds up his hand. Colours drip from his fingers.
As if I’m bleeding rainbows.
He eats what’s inside our insides.
The Feed swallows down a strip of green.

Catching Teller Crow is an important book for our current times and for our country, and is the kind of story that could be studied for signs, metaphors, devices and the like. But more than that, it’s a small book that packs one hell of a punch, and is bound to tug at your emotions. It’s a shame about the slightly less powerful chapters in prose, but only through the contrast can we appreciate just how amazing the chapters in verse really are.




Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

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