Read of the Week: Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

This week’s read is recommended by Storybarn developer Holly who has chosen Shaun Tan’s fantastic Tales from Outer Suburbia.

“The night of the turtle rescue, I thought we were going to die. I was clutching my hair and repeating the same questions over and over again: Why do I always listen to your insane plans? What possible difference will any of this make? I looked back and saw our pursuers relentlessly closing in, so much bigger and more powerful than we young fools with our pathetic ideals. ‘It’s all over!’ I yelled at the top of my voice. ‘Let’s give ourselves up while we still have a chance!’

And then, illuminated by the sweep of fierce searchlights, I saw our cargo for the first time: tiny limbs struggling to hold on, small unreadable faces staring out in all directions, voiceless mouths opening and closing. Nine small turtles – all we managed to save – just those nine. They turned their heads, looking back at me with eye like black buttons, like full stops, blinking. I could think of only one thing, and it erupted from my lungs like a fireball as we hurtled into the darkness: ‘Keep going! Keep going! Keep going!’”

Tales from Outer Suburbia is an odd, bewitching and intensely relevant collection of short – tiny, even – stories which cherish, explore and expose the quiet mysteries of everyday life.

The stories contained within this richly illustrated collection illuminate the human condition exquisitely and almost quite uncomfortably – as though our common flaws have been flung beneath a peculiar, too-bright floodlight and crudely illuminated.

The range of needs, emotions and experiences covered is extensive: guidance, independence, cultural differences, confusion, affirmation, sadness, reunions, inadequacy and joy, being raised in a hostile environment, simple pleasures, the challenges of marriage, the love that binds us, sameness and uniqueness, searching for answers, the absurdity of holidays, distraction from truly important matters, repurposing destruction, retribution, loneliness, sibling rivalry, and narrow escape.

Each tale deserves at least three readings, and Tan’s artwork commands attention and inspection on every page. I have explored the stories in this collection with children as young as nine and adults as old as ninety, and each sharing has given new into insight to this catalogue of odd tales. In our challenging, cruel, beautiful, hostile world we need to sew threads onto which we can all cling – Tales from Outer Suburbia is an ideal addition to any literary survival toolkit.

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