The Attack by Catherine Jinks

Publisher/Year: Text Publishing/2021

Publisher description

Robyn Ayres works as the camp caretaker on Finch Island, a former leper colony off the coast of Queensland. Her current clients are a group of ex-military men who run a tough-love program for troubled teens.

The latest crop looks like the usual mix of bad boys and sad boys. Then Robyn takes a second look at a kid called Darren. Last time she saw him his name was Aaron, and Robyn was his primary school teacher. And she was somehow at the centre of a vicious small-town custody battle involving his terrifying grandmother.

Bruising classroom dynamics, manipulative parents and carers and horrendous small-town politics form the backdrop to a nail-biting thriller in which the tensions of ten years ago start to play themselves out, building to a violent climax in the present day.

Robyn escaped the past once. Now it’s back—and this time there’s no way out.

Reviewer: Moraig Kisler

The Attack is Catherine Jinks’s fiftieth novel, and it doesn’t disappoint. This a slow-burning thriller alternates between 2009 and 2019, the tension gradually building as small town rivalries intensify.

2009: Robin Ayres, a new teacher at a rural primary school, struggles with Aaron, a troubled boy whose explosive temper disrupts and terrorises Robin and his classmates. Aaron’s the flesh and blood weapon in a bitter custody dispute between his cop father and distracted mother. Despite his behaviour, Aaron’s a piteous child in desperate need of help.

Enter Aaron’s grandmother Joyce, an outstanding character, the town matriarch and tyrant, a character readers love to hate. Her claw-like grip on her grandson’s shoulders sets the stomach churning. As a classroom reading assistant, she intimidates and undermine Robin’s authority. Jinks’s depiction of classroom scenes is realistic and unsettling. Eventually, Robin resigns.

Major themes throughout The Attack are bullying and coercive control. Jinks handles these issues with a deft touch. Bullying’s long fingers grip the character’s lives in stranglehold, both in and out of the classroom.

Fast forward to 2019: bad boy Darren turns up in the Vetnet program for troubled teens. Robin, now the caretaker and ranger on an isolated island, recognises the boy as Aaron and her past erupts in a fearful volcano.

The pace accelerates when small acts of vandalism morph into threats to Robin’s safety. Jinks masters the gamut of troubled teen behaviour, and some of the characters are truly sinister.

As Robin begins to unravel Darren’s past, she once again encounters the formidable Joyce, and The Attack builds to a terrifying climax.

The Attack is a terrific read for readers who enjoy psychological thrillers where even kitchen knives and blenders take on a dark significance.