Ordinarily, if someone said “Hey, would you like to spend a few days in the mind of a 15 year old boy?” I’d emphatically say: “No thanks,” or at a stretch, “Maybe, can I take hand sanitiser?” However, if someone said “Hey, would you like to spend a few days in the mind of a 15 year old boy via Markus Zusak?” I’d say: “Yes! Give it to me now!” No one actually said that, but have acquired all three books in Zusak’s Underdog series, and thus this week I spent some time in the mind of Cameron Wolfe: dirty boy. Okay, so no, this is not The Book Thief or even I Am The Messenger. This is the existential musing of a working class teenage boy who’s trying to figure who he is and his place in the world. It’s about brotherly backyard punch-ons and girls in the real world versus girls in catalogues. Having a winner for a brother and a mother who’s ashamed of her sons. Stealing traffic signs in the middle of the night. It’s a very subtle book – the plot is slender and it doesn’t exactly follow the traditional path of rising action to a tense climax. But there are hints of Zusak’s later style in the fragmented sentences, the fusing of Cameron’s dreams with his reality, and the flashes of imagery in the writing. And while the story appears to be somewhat insubstantial, I think its depth is implicit in the small moments of interaction between the characters, and Cameron’s struggle to express his thoughts with clarity.It’s interesting to read Zusak’s debut and see how his style evolved over time. The Underdog isn’t quite the Markus Zusak I’m familiar with, but the teenage male voice is very authentic and makes me curious about how much Zusak drew on his own experiences of growing up. It’s also very slice-of-Australian-life in the late nineties. There are more flannos, “carn”s and “y”s [that’s Australian for “youse”] than you shake a stick at. And loads of tomato sauce. Cameron Wolfe might a dirty boy, but I already have a bit of a soft spot for him. And Rube. Bring on the next one.