The Devil You Know, by Leonie Norrington

Damien is running down he road pulling his mum, holding her tight so their out-of-time steps don’t jerk their hands apart.
‘Wait, luv,’ she says, ‘I’m tired.’
‘No. they’re coming!’ he yells, looking behind. ‘Keep running!’
But she won’t. So he flips her up onto his back and gallops on all fours, his hands and feet stretching out like a horse.
‘No, Damien, let me down.’
There’s a house in the distance. We can hide in there.
He’s running as fast as he can. But it’s not coming any closer. The house isn’t coming any closer! The road is moving beneath him like a running machine, keeping him on the same spot.
The men are shouting now, firing shots. Trees and dirt explode around him.
Damien ducks into the bush, running close to the ground; his lean body curves like a panthers’, the silent bush stroking his smooth black hide. Mum is asleep along his back. He gets to the yard, slips around the side of the house, crawls beneath his old bed, supple as an eel, and into Mum’s bedroom.
And they’re there, waiting, all of them, sitting on Mum’s bed: Bedford, 88, Uncle Ronald, Gregory and Mum.

Damien and his mum have moved. Again. This time, they’re in the Northern Territory and Damien has started at yet another school. It’s not going well. His mother has a history of partnering with violent men. This time though, she assures him, things will be different. Damien has heard this before, and it’s always the same. Things start well, go downhill until he and Mum have to run. Again. So it’s no wonder really that he struggles to adjust to a new school, to make new friends, to trust anyone. And now his mother looks like she’s taking up again with 88, Damien’s father who has beaten her before. Damien’s only solace is drawing. He draws when nightmares wake him, and when thoughts overwhelm him in daytime.

The Devil You Know is both unsettling and compelling. From the front cover, showing a cowering boy and a large tattoo-ed man, it’s clear this is not going to be a fairytale. But Leonie Norrington’s touch is light, even when describing or alluding to the weightiest matters that a teenager should never have to face. The reader is invited into Damien’s world, asked not to judge him, but to walk with him awhile, to understand the life that has shaped him. Damien is a survivor, but he carries scars. Damien does find friends, not always where he first looks for them. Themes include domestic violence, bullying, racism (although some of the strongest and most empathetic characters here are aboriginal) and abuse. Highly recommended for secondary readers.

The Devil You Know, Leonie Norrington
Allen & Unwin 2010

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond.