Michael Sweeney’s Method
by Sean Condon
Published by Penguin Australia
288 pages, 2007
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
Michael Sweeney and his friend Dud attend an expensive private school in a wealthy suburb, although they come from a less wealthy area. They aren’t in the “loser” bunch, but aren’t at the top, either; that’s reserved for the rich, cool kids. Michael has never been in trouble at school and actually enjoys most of his studies.
It is their final year of high school. Michael’s decision that they will be kind to the new student, an American boy who doesn’t seem to have made any friends in the first few weeks of school, changes their lives. Tom is friendly and lively and his attitude to life is different from theirs -- different enough to get them all into trouble. He also turns out to be the son of a famous American actor, in Australia for a year to make a film. Nobody has taken an interest in him because the family name has been changed for school purposes, precisely to keep away the hangers-on and the press.
This is also the year when Michael falls in love for the first time, with a hearing-impaired girl whom he first sees running for the bus carrying a foam skull, and starts a campaign to raise money for the family of a Vietnamese Australian boy condemned to hang in Thailand for drug smuggling.
When the three boys are ordered, as a punishment, to do drama as an extracurricular activity, they find themselves doing a play, directed by Tom, which requires them to play characters completely different from themselves. Dud, an athlete, is playing the nerd. Michael, an earnest student who has never been in trouble before meeting Tom, is playing the teen rebel. All very well, until Tom decides that everyone needs to work according to the Method school of acting, and “become” the character they’re playing -- without telling them what he’s doing.
It’s about the last year of school, about trying something new, about doing what your heart tells you and never regretting the turn your life has taken. Michael’s father is a plumbing supplies salesman who occasionally wonders if he could have done more with his life. His mother is an artist still trying to make a name for herself, but never finished university due to the children and family life, and sometimes wonders about whether things could have been different. Tom’s father, who is very pleasant and unassuming for an international movie star, says he has been an actor since finishing school, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he fulfilled his dreams.
The story is very readable. It’s the first I’ve read in a while in which the protagonist actually likes his parents and gets on with them. Being a teenager shouldn’t necessarily mean you’re having parent trouble. After a scene in which Michael argues, in class, that suicide bombers should be admired for their convictions if not their actions, he later comes up with a far more positive conviction of his own, that leads to his support for the parents of the condemned boy. That gives him the strength to argue with the school principal, who doesn’t like the idea of the school auditorium being used to support a convicted drug smuggler. In the course of the year, the hero grows and improves.
There isn’t any indication of where the story takes place, although in Victoria, where I live, the last year of school would be far too busy for students to be involved in school plays and other such extracurricular activities. It’s a good story, though, with enough meat for class discussion. Boys in mid-to-late high school might enjoy it. | March 2008
Sue Bursztynski is the author of several children's books, including the CBC Notable Book Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science and Your Cat Could Be A Spy. Her fiction has been published in various SF magazines. She publishes two blogs, a general one at http://greatraven.blogspot.com and a review/SF blog at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com. She lives in Australia.