The Story of Tom Brennan

by

J. C. Burke

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The Story of Tom Brennan: Chapter Seventeen Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On Monday morning, Tom muses that it's strange watching someone else cry. He thinks that a few months ago, seeing Brendan cry would've sent him into a dark spiral. Tom thinks that seeing Brendan cry put the game with St. John's into perspective: it's just another hill to climb, and then life will go on.
It's telling that Tom is so aware of his own progress, as it suggests that Tom is learning to actively frame his struggles in ways that make sense to him and will help him get through darker moments.
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As Tom and Brendan run, Brendan asks Tom if he's aware that Chrissy really likes him. Tom immediately is doubtful, but Brendan tells Tom to ask her out quickly. Brendan turns off their normal track and yells that he's taking Tom somewhere special. He refuses to tell Tom where until Tom hears the river. When they come to a clearing by the water, Tom tugs on an old rope on which Brendan says that Daniel used to swing. Brendan explains that he brought Daniel and Fin here when they were about thirteen, and Daniel treated it like an initiation ceremony. Brendan says he never brought Tom because the river got infested with poisonous algae and then he forgot about it. He remembered after seeing a photo of Daniel on the rope, and it's safe to swim here now.
The fact that Daniel treated his trip to the river like an initiation or coming of age ceremony suggests that the river might play a similar role in Tom's life—he's here for the first time right after figuring out how to look at life in a more constructive way, after all. The algae in the river can be read as a metaphor for Daniel and Daniel's issues; now that Daniel is in jail and can no longer make life so miserable for others, the way is clear for others—like Tom—to move forward and mature.
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Brendan says that what he said the other day about not leaving Coghill is actually complicated. He says that he and Jonny were going to leave and go to Sydney, but then the accident happened. Tom thinks that Brendan held the family together by taking pressure off of Dad, especially when Mum got bad. He thanks Brendan for staying. After a few minutes, Brendan says he didn't come to the river at all last summer because of the memories. Tom notes that Gran says they need to leave their ghosts behind, but Brendan insists that you can't underestimate sacrifices you make because of something someone else did. After a moment, he does admit that Gran is right.
Brendan's comment that he can't underestimate sacrifices undertaken because of someone else gives Tom permission to take his move to Coghill and the changes that brought seriously. It was a sacrifice for him to uproot his life and move, even if things are overwhelmingly turning out well for him now. This also reinforces that, per the logic of the novel, family members have a responsibility to care for each other over anything else.
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Tom says that he wants to build Gran a chicken coop and get her some chickens, but says he'll need help. Brendan suggests he do it for Gran's birthday in September. Tom asks Brendan for help and says that they'll get Kylie to help too.
Tom's suggestion to build a chicken coop shows that he now sees Gran as a full person deserving of love and attention, just like he is.
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Tom is nervous about the upcoming match with St. John's all week, though the team makes him feel supported. He's relieved when he learns that they'll play at a spot halfway between Coghill and Mumbilli. On Thursday afternoon, Harvey asks Tom to help him carry equipment. Tom asks if there are any players who might make the New South Wales team, and Harvey says Tom has a chance. Harvey recounts seeing Tom play last year and thinking that he didn't look like he was enjoying it. Tom knows he didn't enjoy last season. Now, he understands that rugby is better when a team is united and loves the game.
It's telling that Tom's chances of making a famous team in the future aren't hurt by his association with Bennie's, even if the Bennie's team isn't the best team around. This only further reinforces the novel's assertion that teamwork is far more meaningful than winning—and importantly, that even sacrificing winning for friendship doesn't mean that someone can never win in the future.
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Related Quotes
When Brendan heads into town later in the evening, Tom stays in the sheds and cleans. He checks his email and feels cowardly for not replying to Matt. He knows, however, that Matt will forgive him, and they'll be able to pick their friendship up when they're done with school. As Tom gets ready to leave, he spots Chrissy driving up. They sit together and talk about rugby. Tom explains that St. John's getting into the Wattle Shield was a fluke last year and it was only because of Fin that they did.
It's unclear whether Tom is telling himself that Matt will forgive him because it's true or because he's too afraid to try harder in that relationship. Either way, the fact remains that Tom is still healing and not ready to reach out to repair things with old friends. This is also why he still struggles to be around Fin; new relationships are easier than old ones.
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Tom says that Fin never talks to him about what his life is like now, but he doesn't like to visit so there's not a lot of opportunity to talk anyway. Tom admits that he feels guilty about Fin in particular, and it's made worse because Fin is so angry about everything. Tom says it's stupid that he's so upset about the match in these circumstances. Chrissy says that after her dad's last stroke, she didn't want to see him much because he drooled and it was kind of gross, but now, she wishes she'd spent more time with him.
When Chrissy and Tom share more about their experiences with Fin and Chrissy's dad, it helps Tom in particular to feel like he's not alone. This shows again that his relationship with Chrissy will help bring Tom more fully into himself, as well as help him see the value in making friends and starting romances in his new life.
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Before the match, Harvey gives everyone a pep talk, and then Tonelli insists that the team needs to support Tom. Out on the field, Matt gives Tom a thumbs-up, but Tom can barely smile back. By the midpoint, St. John's is winning 9-0. Harvey barks instructions for the last half and Bennie's plays better. Tom helps Bennie's bring the score to 9-7. As they restart play, Tom hears "killer" and "Brennan" from the St. John's team. He staggers backwards as Brad curses and lunges forward. Bennie's loses, but they celebrate like they won. Tom walks away, ignoring Matt as Matt tries to follow and apologize. Chrissy grabs Tom and steers him to her car.
Pay particular attention to the ways in which the Bennie's team rallies for Tom; this shows Tom that even when his team is losing, the most important and meaningful part of playing rugby is knowing that his teammates will stand up for him in tough times. It's also important to note that Tom is instrumental in bringing the scores so close; this again shows that he's still an exceptional player, regardless of what team he plays for.
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Chrissy drives for hours and near dusk, turns off the highway onto an empty dirt road. Tom finally starts laughing and Chrissy stops the car. She explains that her dad used to come here for picnics. Tom thanks her for getting him off the field and explains that Matt was the St. John's player trying to talk to him. He puts his hands over his face and says he has to call Matt. Chrissy lowers her seats and they lie under a blanket. They talk about the game, Tom burning himself in the shower, and Chrissy's dad. Tom takes Chrissy's hand and they kiss. He feels as though this is the day he kissed Chrissy, not the day he faced St. John's.
Tom's ability to reframe this day as the one in which he kissed Chrissy, not the one in which he faced St. John's, shows that these new friendships are helping him learn how to reframe his experiences and better manage his grief. This is notably because Tom finally chooses to define himself in some way other than through his association with St. John's, in either a positive or a negative way.
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