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2019 - Winner
Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s sophomore novel, The Lebs, is a gripping, confronting and darkly humorous exploration of what it means to be young, brown and Muslim post-9/11. Set in and around Punchbowl Boys High School in Sydney’s western suburbs at a turbulent time for both our teenage protagonists, as well as an increasingly divided Australian populace, the book tackles important themes around masculinity, relationships, race and religion.
Ahmad spares no-one. White Australians, young Muslim men, students, teachers and Australian society collectively are interrogated and skewered with sharpness and deft humour. The real magic in the book is its ability to tell a relatively straightforward story about a young man’s schoolyard antics while simultaneously deconstructing contemporary Australian culture, as well as racial and geopolitical tension, all while providing us with a rollicking read punctuated with genuine comedy.
The Lebs is a powerful work that effortlessly combines tenderness and rage, love and grief. With its breathtaking literary virtuosity, this is a book that will make the reader laugh with the vulnerable, idealistic narrator, empathise with his struggle, and weep as his aspirations are crushed time and again. In a strong field of contenders, comprising of the most brilliant books coming out of Australia today, The Lebs stood out as an elegant, urgent comment on contemporary Australia, with a voice that is sure, unflinching and nothing short of magnificent.