The Story of Tom Brennan


J. C. Burke

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The Story of Tom Brennan Study Guide

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Brief Biography of J. C. Burke

J.C. Burke was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. Both of her parents were journalists and she was the fourth of five children, all girls. When Burke was around ten years old her mother was diagnoses with cancer, and she died when Burke was nineteen. After the death of her mother, Burke trained as a nurse and worked in bone marrow transplant units in both Sydney and London. After taking a creative writing class in 2000, she published her first novel, White Lies, in 2002 with the help of an Australian Society of Authors mentorship. Her mentor was author Gary Crew. Several of her novels have earned awards from the Children's Book Council of Australia, including The Story of Tom Brennan, Pig Boy, and White Lies. She lives in Sydney with her husband.
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Historical Context of The Story of Tom Brennan

Drunk driving is an issue that overwhelmingly affects teens, both in Australia and the U.S. In both countries, about a quarter of all motor vehicle deaths are related to alcohol—while in the U.S. specifically, drunk driving is the leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 20, and a teen dies approximately every hour because of drunk driving. Though the legal drinking age in Australia is lower than that in the U.S. (18 in Australia, 21 in the U.S.), so is the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level. Australia considers someone too inebriated to drive at a BAC of .05 and in the U.S., the legal limit is .08. For comparison, when the police test Daniel in the novel, his BAC is .12.

Other Books Related to The Story of Tom Brennan

The Story of Tom Brennan can be considered an "issue novel," or a novel targeted at teens that deals with a particular issue, such as sexual violence, drugs, or in this case, alcohol abuse. Other teen novels that deal with alcohol specifically include Sarah Dessen's Saint Anything and Other Broken Things by C. Desir. Many of John Greene's novels are also considered to be issue novels, specifically Looking for Alaska and Turtles All the Way Down. There are also a number of teen novels that, like Tom Brennan, deal with the intersections of growing up, friendship, and sports, including Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher and Jordan Sonnenblick's Curveball: The Year I Lost My Grip.
Key Facts about The Story of Tom Brennan
  • Full Title: The Story of Tom Brennan
  • When Written: 2004
  • Where Written: Sydney, Australia
  • When Published: 2005
  • Literary Period: Contemporary Young Adult Fiction
  • Genre: Bildungsroman; Issue Novel
  • Setting: Coghill, New South Wales, Australia
  • Climax: Bennie's loses the rugby match against St. John's
  • Antagonist: The antagonist is arguably Daniel Brennan, though in a more overarching way the antagonist can be read as alcohol, fear, and prejudice
  • Point of View: First person, narrated by Tom

Extra Credit for The Story of Tom Brennan

Based on Real Life. In interviews, J.C. Burke has spoken at length about how Tom's experience of seeing the accident for the first time mirrors Burke's experience of learning her mother had cancer when she was a child. She insists that this wasn't intentional and, instead, sees it as proof that an author truly cannot separate her experiences from her writing.

Sons. The Story of Tom Brennan was inspired by a conversation J.C. Burke had with her mother-in-law about raising their sons and how parenting sons differs from parenting daughters.