The dreaded ‘how’ word. The question will require you to address the language forms, features and structures of your texts. Let us help you with some of the main ones:
Non-Linear Narrative Structure
The prologue is an important structural feature of this text. It sets a sombre, remorseful tone and establishes the current context of the Brennan family. This prologue is used to foreshadow their significant transition into a new world, and provoke reader empathy and investment into their emotional plight: “In a couple of hours they would wake and find us gone, far away, so as not to remind them of their pain and what our family now meant to this town.” (P 2)
JC Burke uses a non-linear structure for The Story of Tom Brennan. This means it is not chronological as it jumps backwards and forwards or forwards and backwards – switching between past and present. What does it do? It creates suspense, builds character and provides additional information BTC (before the crash) and ATC (after the crash). It gives us valuable insight into the characters and their personal development. In Tom’s case, they are like the missing pieces of a large emotional jigsaw. With each flashback comes reflection and introspection and this is what allows Tom to eventually see ‘the bigger picture’. In the second half of the novel there are fewer flashbacks which could be interpreted as moving forward and looking towards the future. I also forgot to mention that the flashback technique adds authenticity to the experience – making it a real and believable representation of a fictional situation. But what makes them so engaging? I’ll let you answer that!
Colloquial, Figurative, and Emotive Language
Part of the uniqueness of this text lies in the use of colloquial language. This conversational style adds to the authenticity of the adolescent characters, therefore appealing to the young adult demographic to whom this text is targeted. The natural dialogue often involves the use of teenage slang, obscenities, swearing, scatological references and adolescent idioms. It is interesting to note the juxtaposition of Tom's more figurative and emotive thoughts, and the colloquial dialogue he uses with other characters. The rawness of his guilt is relived over and over again in his mind in highly visceral ways: “the things I once lived for now meant nothing to me. Just the thought of it left a big hole in my guts,” (P 21) but he feels restricted when communicating these feelings with others: “Why am I talking about this?" (P 266). Burke develops Tom's character through his internal and external dialogue, as well as his actions.
With Tom Brennan being the narrator and protagonist, we can get a first-hand glimpse into the impacts of transitions from his personal perspective. We, as readers, feel emotionally connected to him as he matures and develops throughout the text. We feel privileged to be invited into Tom's private, vulnerable moments of introspection. JC Burke carefully targets her teen demographic by making Tom's narration style accessible, raw and authentic in reflecting his introspective journey into a new social context.
The term for people who refer to themselves in the third-person. Tom does this only a handful of times throughout the novel. Ironically, it is when Tom refers to himself in this disconnected way that he is able to deeply reflect on his understanding of himself, others and his place within the world. Being able to distance yourself from a situation and observe what is going on with honesty and open-mindedness, can help people to gain a deeper sense of maturity and renewed perspective. Click here for a video from JC Burke and more stuff on this technique.
Metaphors and Motifs
Hills and Mountains
Hills and mountains are symbolic of the adversities and obstacles the Brennan's have to face as they venture into a new social milieu. Hills are referenced in this text in two ways; one, the decline in the emotional well being of Tom and his family: "Down, down we glided in silence" (P 1) and "he'd (Daniel) gone downhill quickly" (P 196) and two, the overcoming of emotional barriers during their transitions: “The St John’s game was a hill, just another hill to climb on my journey” (P 238) and “We’d reached the top of the ascent. I’d made it up without even realising” (P 217). Mountains however, represent far more significant accomplishments of characters. These 'mountains' reflect the cathartic triumphs that enable the characters to reshape their values, beliefs and emotional maturity: "Tom, there are mountains and there are mountains" (Brendan to Tom, P 143) and “You have already proved to us you can climb mountains” (Tom's parents to Tom, P 277).
A Ticket out of the Past
This ticket is symbolic of a 'get out of gaol free' card. To have a clean slate. To be without remorse or regrets. (See how cliches can be used to explain other cliches?) Tom is in search of redemption for himself, Daniel and the rest of the Brennan family. This desperate quest for closure reinforces Tom's internal struggle in accepting the past and moving on. As readers discover, there is no magic ticket that absolves Tom from the past but rather, a series of deliberate choices which gradually lead him forward into his future.
Darkness is used as a symbolic motif of the consuming and bleak nature of depression. Symbolic connotations to black and blue enable the readers to connect with the confronting emotions felt by the Brennans. Dark imagery has been used throughout this text to vividly emphasise the family's emotional turmoil. Tom's reflection on the guilt he feels as a result of the tragic accident is reinforced throughout the text: “the darkness was getting closer, choking my breath and squeezing my brain" (P 90) and “There aren't words to say how black and empty that pain felt. It was deeper than the darkest hole. It had no beginning and no end” (P 126). Pathetic fallacy is used by likening Tom's depression to something that follows him around, as Kylie criticises: "you just go round with a... a black cloud hanging over you” (P 87). This torment is further revealed when Tom reflects on Fin's adverse situation: “From where Fin and I were, we could just see the ocean meet the horizon. Blue upon blue. Which was what our families had become - sad, angry, guilt-ridden, confused, lost. Blue. Or, for some of us, black” (P 260). Numerous references to caves, tunnels, death and ghosts gums reinforce the motif of darkness, and also add a supernatural and eerie atmosphere to the text.
Water is used symbolically as Tom's gateway into a more positive future. It has cleansing, purifying effects and helps him to momentarily disconnect from the raw reality of his grief and remorse: “The water was cool and fresh. Somehow it felt full of promises” (P 270) and “That was the morning we swam and loved each other and that was the morning Tom Brennan came back, forever” (P 283). The clarifying effects of water have long been referred to literature as a means of washing away the past, just like in this story. Sharing is caring after all.