Australian author Todd Alexander returns to fiction with his second novel Tom Houghton, a unique coming-of-age story set to inspire.
Growing up in Sydney’s western suburbs, twelve year old Tom Houghton isn’t like his schoolmates, and often ostracised because of his differences. His home life is somewhat dysfunctional and instead of spending his lunch hour playing footy, he prefers to curl up with a film magazine and indulge in stories of actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood – most notably the ever-glamorous Katharine Hepburn.
As Tom delves further into the life of his favourite actress, he finds a kindred spirit in her brother, Thomas Houghton Hepburn, who took his own life at an early age, and his sister’s dedication to keeping her brother’s memory alive long after his passing. It is at this point that he decides to follow in his idol’s footsteps and take on a new identity, rising above his bullies and fulfilling his superstar destiny.
Will he succeed in his endeavour to be free of his past? What effect does the torment he endured as a child have on his self-worth as an adult? Told over two timeframes (that of Tom as a pre-teen and as an adult), these are the themes explored in Alexander’s latest novel.
When a novel is labelled “special” by the publishers and receives such high praise from critics even before its release, it is difficult to not have high expectations upon reading it. This, in turn, raises the inevitable question: is it really worth all that hype? After all, publishers are hardly going to sell novels by telling readers about all the bad reviews, are they?
Though the novel does explore this moral strain of bullying and its long lasting impact on a person’s character, it is not preachy as some novels tend to be when exploring this idea. Alexander’s storytelling is tender and unique, sympathetic to the younger Tom and yet pointing out his blatant character faults as an adult.
As Tom embarks on a journey of self-discovery in the midst of turmoil, the readers are right there with him, cringing as he makes mistakes and cheering him on when he succeeds. Such is the life Alexander has breathed into his characters, I found myself thinking of him when I wasn’t reading the book and he stayed with me long after I finished.
Tom Houghton truly is an inspiring read and one which I would recommend to all.
[Editor/Author Note: This article was first published by cargoART Magazine in 2015]