Reviewed by Janine Cobain
Volunteer is the story of Chris Johnston, a 22 year old university student, who signs away another summer to lead a team of young volunteers as they travel to Ethiopia on a mission to build houses for charity. After an argument with the other leaders, Chris abandons the team and travels north to work for Medical Aid Africa in a medical clinic close to the Eritrean border. He agrees to join their make-shift ambulance crew in a bid to search for the adventure he longs for on the frontline, but finds life very different off the beaten track. As fear consumes him, he is terrified and experiences the true horrors of war as his dreams of heroism and adventure turn into a nightmare.
This story follows Chris' journey with humour, heartbreak and horror and will leave you questioning your own life, your accomplishments and asking if faced with the same situations... what would you do? And with the mental scars of war carved into your memory, who would save you?"
I had the pleasure of reading this manuscript in its raw form earlier this year and it simply blew me away – I read it three times in as many weeks just in case I had missed a bit. What is, for me, unique about Volunteer is that no matter how many times I read it (and I have to confess to reading it several times since…) the emotional rollercoaster ride is consistently exhilarating.
The start of the novel is quite sedate, it sets up Chris’ character and you get to know him – he’s immediately likeable, good-humoured and a little socially awkward with fresh emotional wounds and a head full of 'movie-style' responses to everyday situations that he doesn't act on...until he volunteers. He’s vulnerable, brave, stupid, naïve, childish, and arrogant at times and, very cleverly due to the author’s talent, you become emotionally attached to the character so that by the time the story explodes you don’t just read the story, you feel it – when he’s laughs, you laugh; when he’s scared, you’re scared - I smiled, laughed, cringed and cried. Never have I read a novel that made my heart race in the way Volunteer did, it gave me goosebumps and left me questioning my life, my achievements and wanting to be more.
I have read many, many books over my lifetime and I can count on one hand those that stayed with me, books that have left a lasting impression. This is, without a doubt, at the top of that list – this hard-hitting, emotive book is so realistic that you get wound up in the events. Without giving anything away, there are a couple of events that - whether you are male or female – will have your eyes leaking. If you only buy one book in the rest of your life; make it this one.