Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton


I had average expectations of this book that I requested on NetGalley and went in totally unprepared for what ended up being one of my favourite books of 2019 so far. As far as debut novels go, this one was nothing short of unbelievable.

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Disclosure: I am part of an affiliate program which means that I may earn a small commission if you purchase through my affiliate links at no additional cost to you.


Eli doesn’t have the most normal life. His brother doesn’t talk (out of choice) and communicates with gestures, eye contact, and finger air signs. His mum and step-dad love him but are a little side-tracked by their underground heroin business. Oh and his babysitter is a convicted murderer.

As Eli leaves boyhood behind, he must transition carefully through the violent streets of his Brisbane town, protecting his family, and following his heart. Oh and it would be great if he could find his missing finger along the way (a lesson inflicted on him by the local drug lord).

“Watch my language? Watch my language? This is what really shits me, when the clandestine heroin operation truth meets the Von Trapp family values mirage we’ve built for ourselves.”

Violence and comedy uniquely combined

I admit this book puzzled me at first. The writing wasn’t what I was expecting and the first few chapters are the kind that don’t make sense until you’re deep in the book. But I am so glad I read on. The characters, the storyline, the action, the trauma – this book had it all in perfect quantities. The lighthearted comedy broke up the heavy drama and was a refreshing addition (although I did feel a little guilty for laughing at times).

“I have a forgiveness weakness in me that I hate because it means I’d probably forgive the man who removed my heart with a blunt knife if he said he needed it more than me.” 

A contemporary classic 

I can’t even express what I loved so much about this book. The Australian slang and language felt familiar and took me back to when I lived in Sydney. The setting was so clear in my head, I had a picture of each character and was lost in the realism. The storyline was crazy yet believable at the same time. There were so many elements that shouldn’t have worked but did. The boundaries were pushed, and the result was an original novel that will never age.

The craziest thing? A lot of the events were not only true stories but many were witnessed by the author. This just added another layer of reality and made the story even more poignant and terrifying.

Boy Swallows Universe wholeheartedly deserves every credit it receives. The author has an incredible way with words, and this one will stay with me for a very long time.


Genre: Contemporary fiction
Pages: 464 (paperback)
About the author: Trent Dalton an Australian journalist for The Weekend Australian Magazine. He has also written a number screenplays that have received prestigious recognition. Boy Swallows Universe is his debut novel.

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