Boy Swallows Universe

If you think your life is bad…

Boy Swallows Universe follows Eli Bell as he grows up in the shady part of Brisbane, dreaming of one day to live in a better suburb. His non-verbal brother Gus does not speak by choice, instead writes weird phrases like ‘your end is a dead blue wren’ or premonitions of the future. Their babysitter is a slick man named Slick Halliday, a convicted killer who had once escaped prison.

It is written by Trent Dalton, who is a journalist before adding a novelist into his career path. This is his debut book, but his skill as a colourful writer projects into Eli.

There are many other covers floating around. One looks like this:

Boy Swallows Universe Amazon
Boy Swallows Universe Amazon

The Story in Boy Swallows Universe

Eli Bell has a mom, Frances, and a dad who is not interested in them. Lyle, the stepfather, is a good man who tries to raise Eli and Gus to be good people in the community. The family has a dark past, and Eli makes no secret about his mom’s drug use and Lyle’s weekend heroin dealing endeavours.

The story is not for a faint-hearted, Eli himself is not a hero who fights against all odds to become a good person. Instead, he does what normal people will do: get ahead. So he approaches Lyle with an idea, only that it is not a good idea, and he did not think of it first. Events spiral out of control when Tytus Broz, Lyle’s boss in all senses, finds out that Lyle has been double dealing.

The 2nd Phase

A lot of struggles later, Eli decides he wants to be a writer, particularly a criminal writer. Being the stubborn child, Eli approaches Caitlyn Spies, who is a crime reporter, 8 years his senior. She becomes a mentor, and Eli finally gets a breakthrough in life, something positive. After the traumatic incident, Gus talks after being non-verbal for years. Both boys have to stay with their father, because Frances ended up in prison for the ‘incident’.

If you are wondering what incident, you will have to read it. The ending is satisfying, because the turn of events gives closure to many questions in the book. I like the adrenaline of the last few chapters, even though it can be a little scary. The story is a first person’s point of view through Eli, and he is quite a brave soul.


Boy Swallows Universe is becoming a movie! Apparently, the scene will be in Brisbane as per the book. While I find the book is too crowded with colourful words and descriptions, it does not take away Eli’s sadness and struggles. I was not joking when I say the author writes like Eli, and he even uses the Editor to joke about it. Do I like the writing style? No, I prefer using my imagination rather than having every image written and foisted into my brain.

But I do like the twists and turns, and the message of love and not giving up. There are plenty of happy and sad moments that will hold, but this is a book that humanises people who take drastic measure to survive. A slow read but definitely worth it.

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