As a former child himself, I understand, Robert Newton has an ability to write stories about Aussie kids in an extremely authentic manner. When we were two follows the story of two brothers fleeing from an abusive home. The story is not overly didactic and Newton should be applauded for giving the audience (particularly a younger audience) a great deal of ownership in filling in the blanks. With hints and a distinct old time feel, he slowly reveals that the setting of the story is NSW during WWI. Curious readers will get a lot out of fleshing out the background of this story.
This edition to the shortlist has not been universally enjoyed however. HH suggested that books like this could be responsible for a decline in reading. I, on the other hand, like extremely slow and boring books so I really loved it. I don’t know if the CBCA should be condemned for shortlisting books that kids will be bored by or applauded for recognising the diversity of readers. Theoretically teenagers are as diverse readers as the rest of us so some of them should really enjoy a well-crafted piece of historical fiction and most of them will just want to read about sex.
Those who do manage to get through this novel will be excused if they develop a serious case of mean world syndrome. The kids in this story are critically ill-starred. However, even if the fates of these two brothers seem exaggeratedly cursed, the essential message is that when you are down there are people who would do just about anything to help you out (unless they’re beating you up and setting fire to your hair, as you can see, it’s a layered book).
Those who persevere with this novel will be rewarded with a story that provides heroism and humour. It contains some concepts that will require handholding for lower secondary students but it would make a great class novel and an even better extension text for keen students of history.