A review by John Cook.
I would like to begin my response to this memoir by referring to the story of a boy of similar age that ended tragically – Tyrone Unsworth, the Aspley High School student who was misunderstood and bullied to the point of suicide at age 13 in 2016. I invite you to read his story at https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-03/bullied-to-death-the-short-life-of-tyrone-unsworth/8236156. ‘Fourteen’ is the story of another youngster growing up in the seaside town of Yeppoon, on the coast from Rockhampton, and his eventual escape from similar pressures, eventually finding himself and a career and a husband (see above photo).
As a credit, Rick Morton, author of One Hundred Years of Dirt, wrote of this book ‘Teenagers should read this book, parents should read this book. Human beings, above all, should read this book.’ – and I have to agree though I did find ‘Invisible Boys’ a better read. This book focusses, as a memoir, on one person’s life and largely one year with references to earlier times and an epilogue. It is written by a man who has made his way in life with a mixture of emerging strong self-analysis expressed through his zest for survival and living and an evident skill as a story-teller and journalist. This is my sole reservation about the book in that while the writing is clear journeyman journalist in style and is capable of engrossing description of happenings and his feelings and responses, it does at times fall into compartmentalisation rather than having a narrative sweep.
Describing a fellow student at his hellish Catholic boys High School who often experienced the same treatment and much worse, Molloy writes ..
“I had always been amazed at how little he seemed to care about what the other kids thought of him. Like me, he was relentlessly taunted as he made his way through the school grounds from class to class. I would hear others share tales, choking back tears of laughter, about other boarders in his dorm holding him down while his eyebrows were shaved off, hiding human faeces in his sheets, throwing a cup of urine on him while he slept, stealing his clothes while he was in a cubicle in the shower block.”
A word about Shannon’s place of torment – St Brendan’s College, Yeppoon is yet another all male Christian Brothers school doubtless set up with the best motives especially for the sons of inland bush dwellers. It doesn’t take much imagination to predict the kind of atmosphere generated over time in this rugby league mad environment when combined with traditional religious views and a total lack of understanding and acceptance – even the counselling offered largely tainted by the dominant atmosphere. It was bound to be Shannon Molloy’s private hell, and especially so as he was obliged to hide so much of his torment and was fearful of its exposure.
Read the book to hear the details of the range of humiliations and beatings and attempted rape to which he was subject in school and out to the point where physical avoidance was his dominant concern along with the contemplation of suicide. What brightens this book is the unquestioning love and care of his single parent mother and his three siblings who also supported him in different ways. Shannon reads as someone with a considerable inner strength which led him in different directions including once trying to be a more butch (and acceptable) person but also toward recognising his strengths and working tenaciously toward their realisation.
There is a deal of description of the teen environment centring on pop music, fashion and stolen good times when partying. Shannon had a few good male friends but his strongest supporters were a few girls who understood him and were rewarded with stardom in a fashion show he organised with the backing of an understanding local youth worker who seems to have recognised his talents and drive.
Typical of his emerging goal-centredness is the story of his drive to obtain a one year international school exchange to the US which broadened his experiences and understanding of what was possible for him on return with more writing experience, climbing the journalism ladder, university qualifications and currently as a Senior Reporter for news.com.au. It is so sad that young Tyrone was not able to work his way out of the space in which he found himself. Who knows what talent we lost?
One final point, I have a long term great friend who hails from Rockhampton who tells me, as a teen, he lusted after the St Brendan’s Athletics team stars. He obviously was lucky that it was all in his imagination.
(BCC library has 5 copies)