Last Ride is an outback Australian tale told through the eyes of a young boy, Chook. Told in the third person, it’s not actually narrated by Chook, but the perspective is very much his. The story starts when Chook and his Dad, Kev, do a runner from what soon becomes clear is the scene of a violent crime. Chook is sort of used to travelling rough, as his father is not exactly the steady type who settles down in a nine to five job and gets a mortgage. But this particular adventure becomes very scary for Chook as his father leads them into increasingly troubling situations.
This book seems to do a beautiful job in demonstrating the effect of trauma on a small child. Chook’s flashbacks, and his methods of dealing with them are heartbreakingly sad. His attachment to his toy cars is very endearing and believable in a 10yr old boy. Through his flashbacks we learn that Kev is violent, bad-tempered and doesn’t have a very high opinion of women. Poor Chook never really had a chance in life with a father like Kev, and an absent mother. Of course, Chook does not understand his situation is dire, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want what a lot of other children have—a mother who cooks yummy food, a chance to go to school, and some stability in his life. He has the ordinary wants and needs of a child. When the two fugitives end up camping out western NSW, his inability to ‘rough’ it like his Dad, is charming and sad at the same time. Chook is scared to sleep out in the open; he is also afraid of swimming; he is hungry and tired.
Despite his lack of formal education, and his criminally inclined father, Chook seems to have a strong moral compass. His desire to check up on Max, who they left in a bad way back at the farm, and also to ensure that the flying doctor is ok is an indication of his understandably naïve but morally sound way of navigating the world. This is somewhat surprising given the nature of his father, Kev, who has a bad temper that tends to spill into criminal behaviour.
The love between the two, however, is always near the surface. The love between them gives us an insight into the complexities of Kev’s character. It is confronting for the reader to attempt to come to terms with Kev’s gentler and loving side when we’ve seen the nasty aspect of his character. On the one hand, I wanted him to be kind and loving to Chook, while on the other, I could see that it was, in a sense, futile, because they had come too far down the path of serious crime for anything positive to be at the end for either of them.