Under-age drinking, drink driving, families in crisis and struggling with old and new friendships. All told through the eyes of a seventeen year old! What in ‘the story of Tom Brennan’ is not relevant to today’s young adults?
Education Queensland should not be considering the removal of the novel ‘The Story of Tom Brannan’ as the story will certainly resonate with teenagers of today and there is no doubt they can identify with many of the social issue and themes raised in the story. Under-age drinking, for example, is a problem in Australian society today and car accidents involving young people feature regularly in the media.
Overview of three themes
Drink driving and under-age drinking is at the core of the story. The story is about how the characters and the community in which they live react and deal with the terrible consequences of a young drink drivers actions. Drink driving and underage drinking are social issues that are relevant to today’s students, if not directly affected at some time students will be exposed to the consequences of drink driving and underage drinking in the media.
How individuals and families deal or cope with tragedy and crisis. The story is ultimately about how Tom deals with his life after it is torn apart by the accident caused by his brother. The way Tom, his family, friends and the general community in the story deal with the issues raised by the accident are comparable to the way the issue would be seen or dealt with in our current society. Today’s students can relate to Tom and the issues he has to face and the way he deals with them. The relationships Tom has with his family would also resonate with today’s students.
Friendship is a recurring them in this novel. The story deals with friendships in a way that students can easily relate to. Losing old friends, finding new friends and trusting the friendships we already have are themes students deal with all the time. Finding love and romance are also dealt with in the story and what young adult is not interested in this topic.
There are other themes running through the story, but the ones that shape Tom the most are his relationship with his family, friends and his old and new community which is all driven by the outcomes of the terrible drink driving accident.
Drink driving and under aged drinking
Under aged drinking and drug use is a current social issue amongst young people in Australia which can often result in young people being behind the wheel intoxicated. We regularly see images in the media and many young students would know friends or family who have been affected by drink driving in much the same way as depicted in the story of Tom Brennan.
The accident that is the result of Toms brother Daniel driving while under the influence of alcohol, and the tragedy that ensued because of his reckless behaviour, is the platform from which the story evolves. Daniel is responsible for two young people dying and for the spinal injury his popular and talented cousin Fin receives. This leads to his family being uprooted from their comfortable existence in Mumbilli, because of the intense hostility the accident has created in the local community. It also leads to incredible heartache and tension within his family. The sentence hanging over the family may even be considered a greater burden than Daniel’s jail sentence as they have to live each day knowing the situation they have been forced into as a result of Daniels drink driving, is a crisis that can never be fixed. Nicole and Luke are dead and Fin whose back is broken will never have a normal life again. Indeed, the full horror of Daniel’s reckless driving can probably be summed up in the letter sent to the Brennan family by Luke’s parents. Their cold hatred of Daniel is probably fair under the circumstances, as even his jail sentence in their eyes is much too short. The hatred expressed Luke’s family is also echoed by the tight nit community of Mumbilli.
J.C. Burke deals with issue of drink driving and under aged drinking in a way that is relevant to young adults of today. Students can definitely relate to the characters and the situations they and the families find themselves in as a result of the tragic accident.
How individuals and families deal or cope with tragedy and crisis.
How would your family cope with a major tragedy? Would family members be bitter, argue or cling together? And how would you and your family begin to move on with your lives. The story details how Toms life, his family and even the community he used to live in can be split apart by tragedy, but more importantly that no matter how bad a situation may be there is always a way out.
The way in which the members of the Brennan family relate to each other, as well as the way they individually deal with the horrible situation they are faced with because of Daniel’s accident, are an important part of this book. The story deals with these issues in the first person through seventeen-year-old Tom Brennan’s eyes. Starting again in a new town and at a new school, how can Tom even begin to rebuild his life when his mother won’t get out of bed, his father is struggling to hold the family together, his sister is threatening to spill the family’s secret, and he can no longer play rugby with his beloved Mumbilli team? They remain a united family, even though they are faced with an extremely complex situation. Joe, Tom’s father, is pulled in many directions but seems to be able to keep calm at all times. He tries to keep Tom interested in rugby, and is very supportive of his wife Tess, who has become almost catatonic from the grief of Daniel being sent to gaol. Tom’s uncle Brendan is also very supportive to everyone in the family. Brendan helps Tom to recover emotionally, as he not only helps him becoming interested in training again, but treats him like a close friend. Because of Brendan’s help, Tom is able to become fit and see that his life is not over and that he has a future that includes playing rugby, romance and maybe even a holiday in Nepal. The story tries to show how if a Family can stick together if they are faced with tragedy or crisis, despite their different ways of dealing with the crisis, can work together to resolve the issues they face.
The way Tom and his family deal with their trauma, being told in the first person by seventeen year old Tom, makes this family’s relationship relevant and easy for students to relate to.
Friendship is also a recurring them in this story. After Daniels accident, Tom and his best mate Matt continue their friendship despite many in Mumbilli being hostile to his family. Although Tom finds it difficult to talk to Matt after their move, Matt remains supportive and understands why Tom behaves the way he does. The St Bennie’s football team rally around Tom, knowing how hard it will be for him to face his old Mumbillie team. Tom’s new friends at school support him without needing to spell out their actions – for instance, keeping him company and protecting him from gossip after his sister makes a speech about everything that has happened to their family before the move to Coghill. Toms uncle Brendan not only demonstrates a strong bond of friendship towards his whole family, but in particular to Tom. Brendan knows that once Tom can take his mind off the tragedy, he might begin to emotionally heal. Tom also extends a hand of friendship once again to his brother Daniel, the cause of all his pain, when he gives him the scrapbook he has made. Chrissie demonstrates friendship towards Tom, when she shows concern after Kylie’s speech and after he is heckled at the rugby match. Their relationship would become more intense than friendship ultimately, but without her friendship, it would not have progressed.
Sum up the Themes
• Drink driving and under aged drinking
• How individuals and families deal or cope with tragedy and crisis.