Dirt Bomb by Fleur Beale is a charming young adult novel set in coastal New Zealand over the summer holidays. Fleur Beale is an award-winning author known for her novels I Am Not Esther, Juno of Taris and Fierce September.
Jake Stringer is a laid-back teenager with a pretty sweet life. He lives at home with his Mum and Grandad (who cooks a mean feed), has a cat who always listens to him, no school, and a whole summer to hang out with his best mates Robbie and Buzz. He can’t imagine ever getting a job – and besides, Buzz is good enough to pay for everything anyway by milking cows for the local farmers. Jake has the whole summer sussed, until Robbie gets the idea to fix up the old car wreck in the ditch and turn it into a paddock basher. Which is all well and good except for one thing. Buzz refuses to front the bill.
Jake and Robbie are forced to get jobs or the project is off. And while Robbie is keen enough to jump into the workforce, Jake is convinced it’s the last thing he wants to do this summer.
Dirt Bomb is a light-hearted story about three friends on the cusp of adulthood. Set in the summer right before his last year of school, Jake isn’t quite ready to grow up and face the responsibility of a lifetime of working. He wants to be young, to do nothing for as long as he can. Jake isn’t quite a slacker; he can work hard when he wants to. But he has an easy-going attitude to life. He wants to take it slow, to enjoy himself and let things happen as they will. It’s very refreshing, almost nostalgic, and perfectly captures the joy of having time to spare.
As Jake comes to grips with the necessity of a job and struggles with the dread of actually getting one versus the misery of being broke, he also has to deal with the threat of his friends moving on without him. Robbie gets a girlfriend and Buzz is working towards his full license. The fear of being left out is universal and follows you through to adulthood, but adolescence is a time of big changes and somehow being left behind just seems worse when you’re a kid.
Jake is easy to relate to and his friendship with Robbie and Buzz is at the heart of the book. It’s a very New Zealand novel. The setting could be any small town on the coast; the kids could be people you knew growing up. The boys are really into their cars, addicted to the recklessness of 360’s in a paddock, becoming airborne on jumps over hillocks, the smooth freedom of driving on the open road. The beauty of Dirt Bomb is that feeling of being young, holding on to and reveling in the last flush of youth in all its glory.
Even though it is a book primarily for teenage boys, Dirt Bomb is a fun read for anyone wanting to get back to a time when summer seemed to last forever and there was nothing better than hanging out with your friends.