Gus and the Missing Boy by Troy Hunter

Reviewed by Rod McLary

Gus and the Missing Boy successfully blends the features of a detective story with the tropes of a YA novel.  Through the course of this novel, the author canvasses the existential issues facing thirteen-year-old Gus as he struggles with caring for his seriously injured mother, the vicissitudes of being gay and out, his struggles with self-harming, and an out-of-the-blue and growing feeling that his life is not what it seems and he may not be who he thinks he is.

With career aspirations to be a detective, Gus explores podcasts dealing with missing persons.  Then, one day, he comes across a digitally-updated photograph of three-year-old Robin kidnapped ten years previously and never located.  The boy looks uncannily like Gus does now.  Is this the explanation for his mother’s evasions about the whereabouts of family photographs and the absence of relations?  Is Gus a victim of an unsolved kidnapping case?  And – more importantly – is he Gus Green or is he Robin Winter?

Thus begins the journey undertaken by Gus towards solving the case with the assistance of his best friends – Shell who is struggling with her gender identity and Kane a star footballer recovering from a serious injury and questioning whether he is anything more than a ‘star footballer.’  But they are caring friends and are willing to temporarily put aside their own issues to support Gus as he begins his journey towards discovering his real identity.  As Gus says to himself as they set off: The next few days are gonna be long [72].

There are two strands to this engaging and enthralling novel – the detective narrative which in itself is sufficiently worthy to stand alone; and Gus’ personal journey as he comes to understand the importance of friendship and family – and self-identity in a world where adolescent fluidity and uncertainty are almost de rigueur.   Along the way, the narrative raises the eternal question whether doing a wrong thing for a good reason is morally sound.  Well, Emmanuel Kant has something to say about that; but, in any case, in the eyes of the law, a wrong thing is still a wrong thing as one of the characters will find out towards the end of the novel.

The author does not shy away from critical issues facing adolescents in a digital world where moral certainty may no longer exist and self-identity is fluid.  There are references to Gus harming himself at moments of high stress but this is counter-balanced by his attending therapy and receiving unconditional support; and similarly, his uncertainty about his parentage is offset by the certainty of his friendships with Kane and Shell.

Gus, Kane and Shell are engaging protagonists and will surely have young readers identifying with one or other or all of them.  There is a camaraderie between the trio which belies their differences and the issues they are facing and emphasises the key message of the narrative – that identity, family and friendships are essential for our emotional well-being and a sense of belonging.

Troy Hunter has crafted a novel which succeeds on a number of levels and is well-recommended to all young readers and older ones as well.  I look forward to his next novel with great expectations.

Gus and the Missing Boy


by Troy Hunter

Wakefield Press

ISBN 978 192304 423 08

$24.95; 233pp


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