Each weekday between now and the announcement of the 2015 Stella Prize shortlist on March 12, we’ll be turning the Stella spotlight on a different longlisted author and their book. Today is day five, and our featured book is…

Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Penguin)

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What the Stella Prize judges said:

Children have their own rules and laws, separate and often secret from the adult world. This vividly imagined and quietly disturbing novel, focused on two neighbouring families, is about a group of boys on the cusp of adolescence, over a few weeks of summer. Sonya Hartnett shows the operations of the secret codes of children: their instinctive understanding and deft negotiation of each others’ personalities, and their struggles to understand and deal with adult treachery and abuse.

Hartnett has a brilliant gift for creating an atmosphere of menace, and she does not fear the dark. She explores the effects of bullying and manipulation, of drunken domestic violence and sinister predatory enticement. Differences of class, religion and income might affect the ways in which adult weakness manifests itself, but the flaws in all four parents from the Jenson and Kiley families create situations in which the children must make their own rules to survive.

The blurb:

With their father, there’s always a catch . . .

Colt Jenson and his younger brother Bastian have moved to a new, working-class suburb. The Jensons are different. Their father, Rex, showers them with gifts – toys, bikes, all that glitters most – and makes them the envy of the neighbourhood.

To Freya Kiley and the other local kids, the Jensons are a family from a magazine, and Rex a hero – successful, attentive, attractive, always there to lend a hand. But to Colt he’s an impossible figure in a different way: unbearable, suffocating. Has Colt got Rex wrong, or has he seen something in his father that will destroy their fragile new lives?

Sonya Hartnett’s new novel for adults is an unflinching and utterly compelling work from one Australia’s finest writers.

About the author:

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Sonya Hartnett’s work has won numerous Australian and international literary prizes and has been published around the world. Uniquely, she is acclaimed for her stories for adults, young adults and children. Her accolades include the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Of A Boy), The Age Book of the Year (Of A Boy), the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize (Thursday’s Child), the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for both Older and Younger Readers (ForestThe Silver Donkey, The Ghost’s Child, The Midnight Zoo and The Children of the King), the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award (Surrender), shortlistings for the Miles Franklin Award (for both Of a Boy and Butterfly) and the CILP Carnegie Medal (The Midnight Zoo). Hartnett is also the first Australian recipient of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (2008).

In 2014, Hartnett published a new novel for adults, Golden Boys, and her third picture book, The Wild One.

What the critics said:

‘[Hartnett’s] prose is exquisitely crafted – simple, yet dense with meaning – and her portrayal of what it feels like to be a teenager, of the awkwardness and alienation that so often defines the bewildering transition to adulthood, is always compelling.’ – Victoria Flanagan, Sydney Review of Books

‘Sonya Hartnett is that rarest and most precious of writers: a reverse Peter Pan. Though the subject matter of her books is centrally concerned with the experience of childhood and youth, this has nothing to do with any refusal to grow up on the author’s part. Rather, her fictions insist that we, whether jaded adults or teenagers keen to escape an atmosphere of general humiliation, grow down: return to that era of our lives when skin was raw to philosophy and experience – when we were helplessly abraded by the storms of love and life.’ – AF, The Saturday Paper

‘Spanning only a scant few weeks, Golden Boys flows as easily as a bike ride on a summer afternoon. But within its effortless unfolding are sombre themes: of the neighbourhood’s acceptance of domestic violence, and its effects on children; of the way class and money can enable and protect a predator; and how resilient, vulnerable, opportunistic and courageous children can be.’ – Linda Funnell, Sydney Morning Herald

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