Introverted young Noel, the son of a Canadian diplomat stationed in Australia, seems a bit out of place in St. Ebury, a small, exclusive private school in Sutton, Canada. Never really accepted anywhere, Noel is just as surprised as anyone when he finds himself sharing a room with Julius, a popular jock and son of a high-flying ambassador from the United States.
Soon Noel and Julius
form a strong friendship, lifting weights together and sharing personal intimacies about their lives deep into the night as Julius lies on the top bunk while Noel surrenders to the bottom.
Soon their room is a refuge created by Julius, a place where for a while Noel “could be himself more than anywhere else in the world.”
This is Noel’s “time of evolution.” Bookish and more intellectually astute than oafish Julius, a Christmas trip to Australia firmly cements Noel’s growth as an independent spirit and as a man. Safely ensconced in his parents palatial residence, the heat and ash of the Sydney bushfires create some sort of reaction on him, “a catalyst like constant lightning.”
Back in Canada, Noel continues to be enamored of Julius, joining his two friends Chuck and Ant in juvenile pranks on other students. All the while, Noel quietly
inhabits that private space with Julius, reveling in the feelings of being roommates who shower together and confide: “secret sharers, a united front against the troubles of the world.”
Julius is in love with dark-haired Fallen (Fall). But Fall is a popular girl
- especially with the other boys - seductive, constantly taunting and teasing.
Noel and Julius are blindsided by her easy manner, frank openness, and willingness to be with other guys. Noel forms the most powerful obsession, which soon transforms
first into a “hungry curiosity” then a compromising situation that ends up having serious ramifications for himself and for Julius.
But then Fall goes missing, leaving no trace of her whereabouts. Has she moved to New York, gone away with her mother, or perhaps eloped with a secret boyfriend? While Noel
obsesses over the evasion along with possible avenues of escape, Julius descends into timidity and fearfulness, frantically worrying about Fall’s whereabouts as he helplessly tries to find her.
The school term proceeds and Fall fails to turn up; it comes as no surprise that the local police and school authorities point the finger at both boys. Soon Noel and Julius are prime suspects in what has rapidly morphed into a murder case.
Moving between two voices - the detached, bookish Noel, who thinks of himself as somewhat superior,
and Julius, who in turn comes across as sexually impetuous and rather dim - McAdam writes with subversive and rebellious ferocity. The stifling hot, bushfire-ridden Sydney summer is brilliantly portrayed and beautifully juxtaposed with the hard, cold winters of Canada,
fully symbolizing Noel’s inner anger and Julius’s hidden angst.
Ultimately, however, there’s not much to like here. Both boys are mostly selfish and obnoxious; the story is confusing in its point of view, and the plot is shrouded in ambiguity, from Julius’s irritating stream-of-consciousness sex ramblings to the mystery of what really happened to Fall. Noel remains the star, a tortured, passive aggressor who acts as though he is a spectator in life until the final devastating confrontation, where the seeds of deception and mistrust are planted and his friendship with Julius is physically and emotionally buried for all time.