Invisible Boys

Invisible Boys

by Holden Sheppard


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An emotional tale of identity, sexuality and suicide derived from personal experience about three teenage boys who struggle to come to terms with their homosexuality in a small Western Australian town. On the surface, nerd Zeke, punk Charlie and footy wannabe Hammer look like they have nothing in common. But scratch that surface and you’d find three boys in the throes of coming to terms with their homosexuality in a town where it is invisible. Invisible Boys is a raw, confronting YA novel that explores the complexities and trauma of rural gay identity with painful honesty, devastating consequences and, ultimately, hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781925815566
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Publication date: 12/01/2019
Edition description: None
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 515,252
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Holden Sheppard is a YA author originally from Geraldton, Western Australia. After graduating from ECU’s writing program, Holden won a prestigious ArtStart grant from the Australia Council for the Arts in 2015. Invisible Boys won the 2017 Ray Koppe Residency Award, resulting in a writing residency at Varuna, the Writers’ House, in early 2018 and was also Highly Commended in the ASA Emerging Writers’ Mentorship Prize 2018. His short fiction and journalism has been published in indigo, Page Seventeen, Huffington Post, ABC, DNA Magazine, and Faster Louder. His novella Poster Boys was selected for The Novella Project VI and was published in Griffith Review 62: All Being Equal.

Read an Excerpt


Time Bomb


There are two ways out of this poxy shithole of a town: you leave in a blaze of glory and never look back, or you die.

I don't want to die.

I've wanted the blaze of glory option since I was a little kid.

* * *

When I was ten I used to wake up on Saturday mornings and run to the lounge room to watch cartoons. We'd had a flat screen once, but Dad sold it at Cash Converters for rent money. We ended up with this piece of crap boxy TV with a wonky aerial held together with Blu Tack and lacky bands.

One morning, I got to the lounge and Dad was already sitting on the sofa watching something loud. He was hunched forward, nursing a king brown of Emu Export, eyes hanging out of his head as he squinted against the slats of sunlight creeping through the venetians. I'd never seen him drunk before, and I suppose that was the start of everything going wrong, but at the time I just remember seeing him as a man instead of as my dad. I thought he looked damn cool.

'Charlie, look at that,' he said. 'That's what it means to stick your middle finger up at the world.'

He was watching Rage. It was a music video of some 90s punk band – I think it was Rancid. I remember being taken by their mohawks, coloured hair, tattoos, piercings and clothes. The way they dressed was rad. They looked like a feral army that marched to its own raging drum.

'Don't they get in trouble at work?' I said.

Dad chuckled, and took a swig of beer like he had to wash something bitter down his throat. 'They don't have to work, kid,' he said. 'They don't have to do anything they don't want to. They make punk music. They do what they want, when they want. That's the dream, buddy.'

That was the Saturday morning I stopped watching cartoons. For the next year or so, I'd get up and watch old music videos on Rage with Dad as he either sobered up or drank straight through his impending hangover, depending on how his week had gone. And when he got his compo payout for his leg getting crushed by that machine, we upgraded to cable and we could watch music videos whenever we wanted, from just about every era and genre. That was the best year. Dad told me all this stuff I never knew he knew, about all the punk bands, and about grunge, and metal, and even 70s glam rock like Sweet and T-Rex. And he told me all this stuff you'd never get told at school, like how the government tries to keep everyone poor so the one percent of rich people keep all the money. And all the conspiracy theories. Dad didn't trust anything that happened in the news; he always had a counter point that made me think.

One morning, after I watch the film clip for Green Day's "American Idiot", with Billie Joe Armstrong leaping into the air with his guitar and swaggering around like the god of punk, I said to Dad, 'I wanna do that. I wanna be like him.'

'Don't just want to be him,' Dad said at once, swirling his Woodstock and Coke. 'Be him. Do it, buddy. Only you can make it happen.'

After that day, he started giving me jobs to do around the house in exchange for a two-dollar coin here and there. For a few months, I pulled weeds, brushed away spider webs, helped fix the barbeque, took the rubbish out, and fed the dog (until we had to put her down). I even emptied Mum's ashtray so she wouldn't have to miss a second of Neighbours (or get off her fat arse, which was the real issue). And Dad was always good for the payments: for each chore, I got a gold coin, which I clinked into an old Peters ice cream container.

When I was eleven, Dad took me to the only shop in Geraldton that sold guitars and I bought my first cheap-arse Gibson.

I knew then, the first day I started tightening the strings and playing out-of-tune Smoke on the Water, that this was my way out. My ticket to something bigger: to becoming the next Billie Joe Armstrong or Dexter Holland or maybe Dave Grohl. This would be my blaze of glory.

* * *

After about a year, our morning video marathons stopped. More often than not, Dad was passed out on the couch instead of conscious. I still sat next to his snoring carcass and watched the videos anyway. And even without him egging me on anymore, I kept on with the guitar, strumming and practising, until I was good enough.

At the start of year ten, the lead guitarist of a local teen party band – Acid Rose – moved to Perth. I auditioned to replace him and I got the gig. Acid Rose is my whole life now. I do lead guitar and backing vocals; Hannah sings and plays bass; and Rocky is our skinsman. If I could just get them to start working on originals, we could put an EP together, then fly to Melbourne and get it in the face of some manager or label or something.

But Hannah and Rocky don't seem to get how big we could be if we actually tried.

Now that we're in year eleven, we only have one class together – Biology – which sucks big hairy donkey balls, because we hardly get any time to talk or even rehearse anymore. We make a point of sitting up the back in Bio, so we can use the class as an unofficial band meeting.

On Tuesday we have Bio last period, and Hannah rocks up in a Fucking mood. Her face is red and blotchy and pouty and she won't look me or Rocky in the eye as she pushes her stool out and slumps down on it. She pretends to listen to Mr Capaldi going on about the mouse dissection, which is Hannah-speak for, 'Aren't you going to ask me why I'm ignoring you?'

I can't be arsed taking the bait this time, but Rocky does.

'Is this about the Facebook thing?' he asks, pressing a chewed pen lid into the sleeve of her hoodie to make her notice him. 'Richelle's comment?'

'She is such a fucking moll,' Hannah seethes, staring with dead eyes at the whiteboard as Mr Capaldi shows us how to cut a mouse open. 'As if she's never dyed her hair before, like, why try to make me a laughing stock for actually trying something different? Just because I'm not a mainstream basic bitch like her.'

'It looks fresh,' Rocky says, running a hand over his short buzz cut as if reassuring himself that his own hair is way better than hers.

Hannah pouts and flicks her hair as she faces me. 'Does it, Charlie? What do you think?'

If I was to be completely honest, I'd say Hannah's new hair – a washed-out green rinse cut into an unfashionable bob – makes her look like an overweight, off-brand Lady Gaga who never got famous.

'It's original,' I say. 'It's very you.'

'Aw,' Hannah says, tucking some of that ugly-arse hair behind her ear.

'Anyway, forget Richelle,' I say. 'Can we talk about the EP?'

'What's to talk about?' Hannah says, whipping out a red pen and doodling something on my notebook. 'Aren't we just in the ideas stage?'

'Well, I've already written my two songs, so I thought I'd see if you guys had, too?'

Hannah screws up her nose. 'Are you still writing that grunge shit?'

'Grunge isn't shit.'

'Oh, please! Charlie, grunge isn't an actual subculture like punk, okay? Grunge died with Nirvana. Kurt Cobain was dead and buried before we were born! Move on, man.'

'Okay, first of all, Kurt Cobain was cremated, not buried. And secondly, you'd already know that if you actually read my blog, which you obviously didn't.'

'Grunge is off brand,' Hannah says. 'Acid Rose is a party band. Pop-rock only.'

It's always the same conversation.

'Rocky – c'mon,' I say, nudging him.

He's in the middle of pulling a face for a sneaky selfie, his cubic zirconia stud earrings a perfect contrast to his brown skin. But the moment his phone camera clicks, he shakes his head.

'Nah, man. I've been thinking, you know, maybe we should have more of an electro influence to our stuff. I've been listening to a lot of trip hop lately.'

I kick the stool in front of me; Piera O'Dell flinches.

'Sure,' I say. 'Let's make a punk-grunge-pop-rock-trip-hop EP and see how that goes down.'

Rocky grins, adding a filter to his selfie. 'Well, I bet nobody's ever done it before.'

'Guys, shut up,' Hannah hisses.

It's too late: Mr Capaldi is at our bench; damn Piera must've dobbed on me for kicking her chair.

'Charlie Roth,' he says, with a faux-smile. 'Imagine my surprise at having to interrupt my teaching yet again to deal with you.'

He puts his hands in his pockets; I swear he thinks it makes him more "street" and "approachable" but it just makes him look like a pussy who doesn't know what to do with his hands.

'Well, you still haven't answered my question from RE class, sir.'

'That's because it was inappropriate, Charlie.'

Rocky punches me in the arm. 'Go on. What'd you ask him, dude?'

'He taught us that gay guys can't have sex, like, ever. What were the words your textbook used, sir?'

Mr Capaldi's lips are thin and snakelike. 'Homosexuals are called to lead chaste lives, Charlie. It's the Catholic Church's position, not mine.'

'So, I asked him if they all die of blue balls, then,' I tell Rocky. 'They would, wouldn't they?'

Rocky pisses himself laughing. Mr Capaldi finally takes his hands out of his pockets. Street Capaldi is over.

'Get to work,' he says. 'The instructions are on the board.'

'But sir, we're rock stars,' I say. 'When are we ever going to need to know this crap?'

'Well, maybe becoming a rock star won't be as easy as you think.'

'You dissing me, sir?'

'I wouldn't dream of it, Charlie. I'm just suggesting that the dreams you have when you're sixteen might not necessarily come true.'

'I guess that's true, sir. I mean, just look at your life.'

Capaldi's face doesn't go black, like some teachers when I push them past their breaking point; he just looks hurt for a second. Bastard must be way over forty, still single, sad little brown tie over his yellow shirt, driving his shitbox late 90s sedan to school each morning. Oh yeah, I struck a nerve.

I love it when I strike nerves.

'That's it,' he snaps. 'I'm splitting you up. Charlie, come with me.'

The teachers at this school love to hate me. I'm not exaggerating that, or playing the victim. I get detention at least once a week, as if that's gonna stop me saying what I want. One arvo, Mr Meder sat me at a desk outside the staffroom after school and made me write lines for an hour. I think the other teachers didn't know I was there, or they forgot, because they started talking more casually than I've ever heard teachers speak, joking around and playing 'would you rather' games and stuff.

Then I heard Mrs Wu say to Mr Capaldi, 'Okay, here's a good one for you, Joe. Be honest, would you rather get punched in the face every single day for the rest of your life, or have Charlie Roth in your class for a year?' The whole group of teachers laughed.

Mr Capaldi said, 'I think I'd take secret option C: kill myself.'

That got a bigger laugh.

Then I heard Mr Meder whisper to them all. The laughter stopped, but they never came out to say anything to me.

Mr Capaldi doesn't hate me as much as some of the other teachers, but he does like to split me off from Hannah and Rocky every chance he gets. He walks me through the class, and I realise that most of the other groups are actually doing the experiment – with varying results. Squares like Sabrina Sefton have their safety glasses on and are following the diagram on the blackboard with pinpoint accuracy. The popular girls, with their shirt sleeves rolled up, are taking photos of the dead vermin and laughing. The footy jocks, with their shirts untucked, have already slashed the mice open; as I walk past, Hammer impales what looks like a mouse liver onto the end of a scalpel and flicks it across the table at Razor. Stupid meatheads.

But any one of them would be preferable to work with than the ultimate destination Capaldi has in mind for me: Zeke Calogero.

Zeke is literally the embodiment of everything I hate about this school. He's the classic nerd, and I don't just mean that he gets top marks. He's quiet, shy, and says sorry every five fucking seconds, even when he hasn't done anything wrong. I don't dislike him because he's smarter than everyone else in the room; I dislike him because he's so weak. In every social situation it's like he's flattening himself against the walls, trying to melt into them and disappear.

'Zeke, you can work with Charlie on this,' Capaldi says. 'Pedro, come and work with Hannah and Rocky.'

Pudgy Pedro exchanges a look with Zeke and slouches off.

As soon as Capaldi's gone, I nudge Zeke in the shoulder blades. 'You're gonna do all the work for me, right?'

'It's all good,' he says.

I heard him say the same thing once in the change room. Razor grabbed his nipple and squeezed it and asked if he could get milk out of Zeke's udders. Poor bastard has the worst set of manboobs you've ever seen, which is weird since he's not even that chubby. But when I yelled at Razor to leave him alone – and he did, because people think I'm a psycho – Razor pretended it was all a big joke. And there was Zeke, forcing a smile and saying, 'It's all good.'

Like I say: he's weak.

'Bet you've never seen a dead animal before,' I say.

'I have, actually,' Zeke says. 'We get a lot of field mice at home. We live up near the river.'

'That's festy,' I tell him. I peer at the dead mouse. 'Stupid bugger shouldn't've got himself caught, should he?'

The conversation doesn't get any better from there. Zeke is like Clark Kent, but without the interesting double life.

The bell goes at three. Me, Hannah and Rocky walk together as far as the car park, then they head for the bus and I jump on my scooter. I never go home after school – the less time I spend around Mum and Fitzy, the better – so I head into town.

My favourite place to kill time is kind of random: the roof of the old primary school near the middle of town. They shut it down a few years back because they found asbestos in one of the classrooms. It's the best hideout place because it's abandoned so nobody will ever tell me to move on. I spend at least an hour here every day. Jump the wire fence, climb up to the roof using the drainpipe as a foothold, then sit up on the red roof tiles and watch the main streets of Geraldton unfold beneath me.

I feel better when I can watch the town from a distance. Watch people park for two seconds in the street, grab the one thing they need from one shop then race home, where they'll wonder why so many shopfronts are boarded up and decrepit. Hear the waves breaking on the town beach, even over the jeers and shouts of the labourers in the beer gardens nearby. Smell the sea salt mingling with the warm odour of hot bread from the Vietnamese bakery. When I'm down there, in it with the rest of the town, it drives me stir-crazy, how small everything is. But up here on the roof, alone, it makes me feel like I'm not a part of it. Like I'm watching from far away, the way I'll see it when I come back and visit when I'm famous one day.

It never takes long for me to get busy doing what I actually come here to do, though.

I sprawl out on my back, my scratched-up, servo-brand sunnies filtering the hot February sun as I whip out my phone, turn the GPS on and login to The App. The one I gravitate to at least one night a week, if not more.

This arvo, the prospects are pretty much the same as every other time. There are nine active users within a fifty-k radius. None of their profile pictures show faces, except for one or two brave-ish blokes with wrap-around Oakleys or dirt bike helmets on. One guy is just a set of abs. Another guy is a can of Emu Export.

I while away an hour or so chatting to guys who flake out before a bubble pops up on my phone out of the blue.

Hey m8 new on here hows it goin

Huh. I actually haven't seen this dude around before. I type back pretty fast.

Good man. Horny as. Wot u lookin for?

His thumbs must be like lightning on his phone screen.

some fun right now u keen?

Some people have a lot of qualities they look for in a hook-up: looks, preferred positions, whatever. For me, it boils down to one question at this point.

Can u host?

A long pause, and then:

u defo 18 yeah?

Yeah, man, I lie.

A shorter pause.

can host later tonight ... come over my place after 8pm

There's something wrong with his house.

My guts lurch before I even get off the scooter. It's not the house itself: it's a 90s cream-brick situation on a quarter-acre block and feels safe enough. Nothing like the seedy crack-den place I ended up in last weekend.

No – the lurch comes when the scooter's headlight passes over a weedy lawn strewn with a couple of kids' tricycles and a sun-bleached plastic chair painted with a My Little Pony pattern.

This is a home.

I pull into the brick-paved driveway, flick the kickstand out and shut the ignition off. The porch light blazes to life straight away. He's been waiting for me.

The door opens before I'm within arm's length of the Fremantle Dockers doorbell.

'Quickly,' he whispers, holding the door open about six inches. I can't even see him.

I shrink my body into itself and press through the sliver of an opening. The guy watches me struggle, but he doesn't open it any wider. Prick.

He shuts the door behind me and twists a key in the deadbolt.


Excerpted from "Invisible Boys"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Holden Sheppard.
Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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