Scar Town by Tristan Bancks

Scar Town by Tristan Bancks

Author Tristan Bancks is well-known for his books for kids and teens, including Two Wolves, The Fall, Detention, the Tom Weekly series, Nit Boy and Ginger Meggs, a 100th anniversary book of short stories based on characters created by his great-great uncle, Jimmy Bancks, in 1921. Tristan’s books have won and been shortlisted for many awards and his latest crime-thriller novel, Scar Town, is a CBCA 2024 shortlisted book and rightly so.

Tristan says he first began thinking about this story in 2009 but it would be 2023 before it made its way onto bookshop shelves. I really loved this page-turner and I won’t be surprised if it takes out the main prize this year, as it’s an exciting and important read, which will capture the imagination of young readers.

A missing father. A drowned town. A buried secret. Three friends on a dangerous mission to uncover the truth.

Seven years after Old Scarborough was drowned, a house is emerging from the water. Will and his friends Dar and Juno dare each other to explore it.

But when they find bones – and a stash of cash – they realise they’re not the only ones interested in its secrets.

Now they’re fighting for their lives against the men who want what they found. Will can’t leave the mystery alone, though. What if the bones belong to his missing dad?


Set in an imaginary country town called Scarborough, main character Will’s life has been surrounded by mystery and grief for years, after his dad went missing, along with a number of other people from the town. Will’s dad was the police officer and as Will digs deeper, he finds clues left by his dad, that initially make no sense to him, but later show him that his dad was investigating some pretty dodgy events. Will’s mum is struggling to keep the family business and their lives afloat. His pops lives in a granny flat at the back of their house and is suffering with dementia. And his uncle is a regular part of their lives.

Where did Will’s dad and the other missing people go and is there any chance his dad is still alive? A memorial plaque in the town is dedicated to Will’s dad, and it describes him as both brave and gentle, something Will finds hard to understand. He feels that someone who is brave must be tough, but is that really the case? And can someone who is seemingly tough, actually be struggling underneath?

In the story, the original town was drowned to build a dam, which was inspired by Tristan’s visits to Jindabyne. He says he has always been intrigued by drowned towns and what lies beneath the surface, and I can understand this, having had the same reaction when I visited Jindabyne too. Scarborough sits above the old town and when the dam wall starts to leak, the old town begins to rise from the muck, along with some long-hidden secrets.

Will and his best friends J (Juno) and Dar, decide to explore a particular house that begins to stare at them from the water and mud. Will is not keen, but he follows along, with the feisty J at the lead, to discover some startling things about the house, the town, and the people closest to Will. I am not going to give any of the plot points away, but suffice to say that a gripping mystery unwinds that will keep readers turning the pages to see what happens next and leave you wondering at times, what these kids were thinking.

Told in first person from Will’s perspective, there are themes such as grief, family, trust, loyalty and courage, that challenge Will as he tries to unravel the many twisted secrets and keep himself and his friends and family out of danger. Will must stand up for what he believes is right and at times, is challenged to make decisions that go against his friends and especially J, who is usually the leader and gets what she wants. Other issues in this story include poverty, alcoholism and parental responsibility.

Tristan’s prose is tight and pressing. He wastes no words and the descriptions of the lake, the mud and the house, are beautifully described, with just the right amount of horror and suspense. The idea of a town slowly rising from the lake is both creepy and poetic. Likewise, we are drawn inside Will’s head and heart and stay with him the entire story, feeling his emotional and physical battles and dilemmas.

Tristan says that Scar Town was inspired by a short story he wrote in 2009, Adaan and you can certainly see the Stand By Me vibes.

“The story was a collision of my love of the movie Stand by Me (adapted from a Stephen King novella), my childhood in the Blue Mountains and a song called ‘Appalachian Springs’ that I listened to over and over while I wrote the short story (and the book).”

Perfect for readers in late primary and early secondary years, Scar Town is sure to capture the imagination of young readers, as the three main characters make decisions that thrust them further and further into the centre of some very dark deeds, that may cost them dearly. Highly recommended and available everywhere.


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