Reading Guide Questions
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- Aunty Jean is the only female role model the boys have left. She
is at times cruel and caring towards them. Do you consider her a
good person? Do you have any sympathy for her? What
references within the text have led you to this opinion?
- Do you think George Fuller sees Harry as just another puppy to
rescue? Or does he genuinely care for Harry? There are a few
other works of literature that use an ostracised figure in the
community to enhance our understanding of the main characters.
Why do you think this can be is a useful plot device, and do you
think it's effective here?
- This is a small community where everyone knows who everyone is
as we can see from Mr Roberts, George and Mrs Martin in the
store. In light of this, why do you think the boys' home life is allowed
to continue? What is the role of men in this community?
- There are few female figures in Harry's and Miles' lives. Is there any
evidence of what they think about women?
- What would be some of the challenges of living here?
- How challenging would it be to be a woman in this community?
- Jeff exhibits increasingly dangerous and bullying behaviour: the
staring, shooting the shark and risking hitting Miles, forcing Harry
Does he bring about Dad's worst behaviour to his sons? Or do you think
Dad allows Jeff free rein to reveal his ugly nature? Do you have any
sympathy for Dad? What is the evidence within the text that formed
- 'Harry stood there looking at the tooth in his hands, and he looked
so young and small like no time had ever passed by since he was
the baby in the room and Joe had told Miles to be nice to him and
help Mum out. And Miles had thought he wouldn't like it. But Harry
had a way about him. A way that made you promise to take care
of him.' (page 199)
Both Joe and Miles are forced to take on responsibility for their
brothers, yet they do it quite differently. Joe moved out with
Granddad and left the other two behind with their dad when he
was thirteen and then ultimately leaves the two of them forever.
Miles however stays on even after he is beaten by his father. Why
do you think they approach the responsibility so differently?
- Miles and Harry share an unbreakable bond. Discuss their different
reactions to Joe leaving.
- Joe is also part of this family unit. Why do you think he is painted as
one of the family, but also an outsider? He used to work on the
boat, now doesn't. He moved to live with his grandfather. Why
do you think Favel Parrett chose not to include point of view from
Joe? What effect does this have on the novel? What do you
imagine his story would have been?
- The water throughout the novel is a metaphor for Dad. Do you
agree or not, and what from the text made you think this way?
Harry fears the water and Miles both loves and hates it. Is there
anything within the book that shows us how this relates to the boys'
relationship with Dad?
- 'There was something coming. Miles had felt it in the water. Seen it.
Swell coming in steady, the wind right on it, pushing. It was ground
swell. Brand new and full of punch days away from its peak.'
How does the Tasmanian landscape speak for the character's
emotions within the text? Are there other references to nature
within the book that you found moving? Discuss.
- Discuss the significance of the shark tooth necklace.
- Memory plays a big part in this novel. Discuss the way in which
memories are invoked in Past the Shallows and what part they play
in the story.
- The gradual piecing together of Miles' memories about his mother
and the night of the accident have a sense of fantasy or
dream-like state about them. Do you think these events happened
chronologically? What makes you think that? Did they reveal
events the way you'd imagined? What other possibilities had you
- Why do you think Joe wasn't in the car?
- Do you think Harry isn't Dad's son, and Miles and Joe are? Is it
clear-cut? What references within the text have given you that
- It's obviously a point of rage for Dad. Do you have any sympathy
for him? How did you feel when you learned through Joe that he'd
disappeared and there would be no direct confrontation or
punishment for his acts? Was this a satisfactory ending for you?
- 'Harry's feet hardly seemed to touch the ground as he followed
Jake, and it was easy to run. He ran through the trees, reached
out, and he could almost touch Jake's red fur. George was up
ahead. George, waving from the top of the hill.
'And when Harry got there, he could see it all.
'The land just as it had been forever untouched.' (page 223)
Do you believe this is a utopian afterlife image from Harry after
death? Or do you think this is a fragment of unconscious
dreaming from Miles? How did you reach this conclusion? Are
there any other references within the text that have influenced this
- Harry and Miles' story is bookended between the evocative
phrase: 'Out past the shallows, past the sandy-bottomed bays,
comes the dark water black and cold and roaring. Rolling out
the invisible paths...' What effect did the imagery and repetition
have on you going into the beginning of the story? And on leaving
- Although very evocative of the Tasmanian coast, do you think that
the story transcends borders, and would be just as thought-provoking
to a reader in another country?
- Breath by Tim Winton
- When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
- Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
- Brothers and Sisters edited by Charlotte Wood
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Washington Square Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.