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Publisher's Summary

An utterly wonderful debut novel of love, crime, magic, fate, and a boy’s coming of age, set in 1980s Australia and infused with the originality, charm, pathos, and heart of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The mind can take you anywhere you want to go.

Eli Bell’s life is complicated. His father is lost, his mother is in jail, and his stepdad is a heroin dealer. The most steadfast adult in Eli’s life is Slim - a notorious felon and national record holder for successful prison escapes - who watches over Eli and August, his silent genius of an older brother. 

Exiled far from the rest of the world in Darra, a seedy suburb populated by Polish and Vietnamese refugees, this 12-year-old boy with an old soul and an adult mind is just trying to follow his heart, learn what it takes to be a good man, and train for a glamorous career in journalism. Life, however, insists on throwing obstacles in Eli’s path - most notably Tytus Broz, Brisbane’s legendary drug dealer. 

But the real trouble lies ahead. Eli is about to fall in love, face off against truly bad guys, and fight to save his mother from a certain doom - all before starting high school. 

A story of brotherhood, true love, family, and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe is the tale of an adolescent boy on the cusp of discovering the man he will be. Powerful and kinetic, Trent Dalton’s debut is sure to be one of the most heartbreaking, joyous, and exhilarating novels you will experience.

©2019 Trent Dalton (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers

Critic Reviews

“[A] marvelously plot-rich novel, which...is filled with beautifully lyric prose.... Exceptional.” (Booklist, starred review)
 

What listeners say about Boy Swallows Universe

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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A beautiful adventure both on paper and in audio

This magical, heartfelt, rollicking, witty, powerhouse of a book just jumped way up to the top of my all time list. I enjoyed every second of the adventure, and despite the subject matter of crime, drugs, poverty, and trauma, and the people often being so cruel, the heart in this book enables you to have fun throughout the whole experience. So many lines were so exquisitely crafted it was at times poetic and philosophical while never losing its air. Thinking back on the entirety of the book now it feels like it took me so many places, through so many emotions, and the way that every single one of its elements comes full circle in the end is immensely satisfying. There’s unabashed mass appeal in that, but it loses none of its luster for it.

Eli’s voice is one of my favorite types of narrators. A young teenager with an extraordinary intellect, deep well of emotion, and curiosity describing a very grown up world through his eyes, unfiltered by the self awareness that comes with becoming an adult. Eli thinks like he talks, very stream of consciousness, so you feel like he’s always talking to you. His character is so endearing, winsome, and insightful. I found him almost inadvertently hilarious and poignant on the same page, often stopping to reflect on what I had just read or storing a quote for later. And it’s so full of terrific, fleshed out characters. Most of the adults are flawed, but it’s unusually easy to love them despite it. Trent Dalton helps you feel that unconditional love you’re supposed to feel for friends and family, and that Eli definitely does. His best friend, baby sitter, and mentor is a convicted murderer prison escapee. Even the sociopathic son of small time drug lord royalty who nearly takes Eli’s hand with a machete as the schoolyard bully becomes someone you and Eli both end up thinking of as a friend.

I literally wonder if I would have enjoyed this book as much as I had if I hadn’t listened to half of it with this narrator. He was spectacular. He gave Eli’s voice life for me that I distinctly remember lacking when I read the first chapter. But he did everyone flawlessly. I will consider any book he performs.

I used to think that I’m not one who typically likes flowering language and digressions, but I’ve found that my favorite novels all have that in common, while my least favorites do as well. It makes my tastes hard to nail down. Trent Dalton expertly toes the line, so that this novel takes on all the color and beauty of its cover, not a one feeling unnecessary. Dalton shows that it isn’t just that beauty is found in the details. The details have to matter, and he makes everything come alive and take on such depth with his lyrical waxing. He hides powerful prose in detailed stories filled with carnage and grit, alongside deep, abstract ideas.

This book yet again furthers my theory that debut novels are quite often the best from a good writer. I wonder if it’s the lack of deadlines, the care for their baby, the motivation of the fear of being rejected if it’s not perfected. I am sure that Boy Swallows Universe is the coming of age story of a spectacular new voice with Trent Dalton. I can easily recommend this book to anyone, but maybe I could say it’s best suited for fun and adventurous deep thinkers that like their page turners to glitter as much as any other work of art.

10 people found this helpful

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Four hours of sixteen left and I am simply done

While the story line is charming, and I want to know "how it ends", it is taking far too long to see this book to the end. There are more events than necessary of young Eli which has led to a loss of interest in getting to the last chapter. The narrator is wonderful, so speeding the Audible up, even just a tad, takes away from the feel of the story line. There is simply too much story line for me to devote any additional time.

8 people found this helpful

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Listen to at a faster speed

Listening to this as part of a book club. I wasn’t into it at all until I sped up the audio to 1.25-1.5 speed. It made such a difference!

Maybe Australiens speak more slowly than Americans... I don’t know, but speeding up the story added a needed sense of urgency to the audio- which makes sense in a story of drugs, trauma, and what that means for someone with a youthful imagination.

8 people found this helpful

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Boy Wows Reader

It amazes me when writers come up with phrases that speak right at me, but I’d never have been able to put those feelings into words myself.
Some have commented on the swearing, but to me, it always seemed “real” and appropriate to the scene. I guess if you are bothered by cursing, this may not be the book for you.
I LOVED Eli - it was sad to see his story end.
The narration was spectacular! Wow!

7 people found this helpful

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Lovely

90% of this book is lovely, if painful at times. The ending turned from beautiful story into Hollywood Action Movie, and that was disappointing to me. But overall worth it. Excellent narration.

5 people found this helpful

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What a stunning book!! Must read

Incredible prose, descriptions and characters. The performance only makes the book better. I am so glad I read it. One of the best novels I have ever read.

5 people found this helpful

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A wonderfully pleasant surprise

This was not at all what was expecting. I’m usually a mystery/thriller, science fiction, and fantasy listener. But the characters, relationships, and narration hooked me from the beginning.

What a GREAT listen.

I can’t wait until June for Mr. Dalton’s next book.

4 people found this helpful

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READ THIS BOOK

started out a little slow but that changed fast. Beautifully written, lyrical, magical, gut wrenching, disturbing...Couldn't put it down. excellent narration. best book in a long time.

3 people found this helpful

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Are You A Good Man?

Young Eli Bell searches for the answer to this and many other huge questions in this coming of age story that mixes together elements of mystery, crime, family, love, forgiveness and universal truths. I could not put it down.

3 people found this helpful

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A Rare Coming of Age Story

If you liked The Goldfinch, you will probably like Boy Swallows Universe. They are different books but also similar. Both are engrossing stories about boys overcoming unbearable circumstances. There are so many contemporary novels about girls and women and so few really good ones about boys and young men—for mature readers. During the first half of this book I was a bit bored and worried about where the story was going. I almost gave up. But I am so glad I didn’t! The second half is marvelous. There is a hint of magical realism in this book—which distinguishes it from The Goldfinch. But it is not overbearingly supernatural or paranormal. It’s almost believable and it’s not essential to the story. By the second half of Boy Swallows Universe you will really care about the main character and his brother and what becomes of them. And you will not be disappointed by the ending. I have read and listened to hundreds of novels and I would rate this one among the top twenty-five.

2 people found this helpful