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Book Review: BRIDGE OF CLAY by Markus Zusak

THE BOOK THIEF author Markus Zusak returns with a riveting story of family, hope, and heartbreak!

Over by Archer Street in Sydney’s racing quarter, everyone knows the Dunbar boys. It’s hard to forget a pack of five parentless boys raising each other up. Matthew is the eldest and the proxy parent, though at twenty, he’s not exactly an expert. Rory is the uproarious one who drinks and jokes a little too much. Henry is the outgoing smooth talker. The youngest, Tommy, is a friendly animal lover coming into his own. But it’s the fourth brother, Clay, who the story is really about. Quiet and curious and sensitive, Clay has always stood out.

When the father who abandoned them years ago returns to Archer Street and asks his sons to help him build a bridge, it’s a mea culpa of sorts. None of his boys want to help Michael Dunbar or even speak with him… except Clay. And so begins a journey back and forth between his father and his brothers, between a project he’s strangely obsessed with and the jockey girl who’s fascinated him since their first meeting, between complicated and simple. But Clay’s story isn’t the only one to be told. To understand the tragedy of Clay’s past and the breadth of his future, the novel dives deep into the history of Dunbar past– to a girl named Penelope escaping communist Russia and a boy named Michael who’s madly in love with his high school sweetheart. Within the pages, we see the circumstance and happenstance and hope and tragedy that make a family.

Bridge of Clay is narrated by the oldest Dunbar boy, Matthew, who’s telling the story of a pivotal time in their lives and the history that came before it eleven years later at age 31. It seems like a roundabout detail, especially considering that Matthew is almost an omnipotent narrator, but by the end, Markus Zusak makes you very glad that it’s a Dunbar boy telling the story personally. There are the tales being passed through the family and as an adult and a father, he just desperately needs to get them on paper. There are some confusing huddles to get over at times because Matthew doesn’t tell the story in chronological order. He tells a bit of everyone’s story, but not in a totally linear fashion, so in between chapters, you’re changing time frames and locations often.

Let me be clear about this: While told so very stunningly, Bridge of Clay is the history of a fictional family. It’s an examination of the way family makes and breaks us. While I thoroughly enjoyed it, I admit it wasn’t very plot heavy and if you’re looking for action, you’re probably in the wrong place. Zusak’s writing style is very detailed, chock-full of flowery descriptions and symbolism, but for me, it really set a gorgeous scene and brought me into the world.

If you’re looking for characters so realistic you latch onto them and your heart bleeds for them, well, settle in! Every character is the novel is their own experience. They all have depth and quirks, they all bring something different to the table. You want to meet them. You want to protect them. I’m at odds about whether this novel is correctly labeled as YA given that it’s as much about adult characters as it was about the teens, but I was fascinated by each character nonetheless.

Zusak narrates the audiobook and does so with aplomb. He’s got the personality and voice of each character down to a science and while it all takes some getting used to, he really throws himself into the story. At times it felt like he missed an intonation of finality when completing a section or chapter, but my confusion was brief and I was ready for what’s next. I would highly recommend the audiobook as it really felt like Matthew was telling me this story.

Bridge of Clay is a powerhouse of a character-driven tale, harrowing and life-affirming all at once. It’s a novel that chooses to be deeply honest with the reader and Zusak uses its power to punch you right in the feels (in the best way possible.)


Bridge of Clay is out now. Order it via Amazon or support your local bookstore via Indiebound!

The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.

At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.

The question is, how far is Clay willing to go? And how much can he overcome?

By Kait

Kait is a New Englander, a YA book and adaptation lover, and a Slythindor, as well as a red velvet and red wine enthusiast. She likes to like things. Catch her on Twitter: @kaitmary

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