Tom Houghton

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Pub Date 01 Oct 2015 | Archive Date 31 Aug 2015
Simon & Schuster (Australia), Simon & Schuster Australia


His whole life has been a fantasy.
Who is Tom Houghton?

As a boy growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Tom Houghton escapes the harshness of the schoolyard by cocooning himself in the cinema of the golden age of Hollywood.

When he discovers that his favourite actress, Katharine Hepburn, modelled herself on her brother, Thomas Houghton Hepburn, Tom sinks deeper into his fantasy life. Determined to reveal his true identity to the world, Tom is propelled on a torturous path with disastrous consequences.

Almost thirty years later, Tom is offered an acting role at a festival in Scotland. With the rigours of his past finally catching up with him, fantasy and reality struggle for control and Tom finds himself questioning everything he thought he knew about himself.

‘A wonderful, touching coming-of-age novel that is raw, confronting and tender at the same time.’ Better Reading
‘As tragic, confronting, hilarious and utterly true as the best of Matt Nable and Christos Tsiolkas.’ Books and Publishing
‘Written with enormous humanity and skill, and the characters spring off the page.’ Ann Turner, author of The Lost Swimmer

His whole life has been a fantasy.
Who is Tom Houghton?

As a boy growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, Tom Houghton escapes the harshness of the schoolyard by cocooning himself in the cinema...

Advance Praise

'A wonderful touching coming of age novel that is raw, confronting and tender at the same time.'

Cheryl Akle, Literary Agent and Editorial Director at

‘An engrossing and strangely charming tale. Todd's book gave me a sample of the dreadful experience of being bullied. As someone who hasn't been through this, the story carried the message in a genuine and powerful way.

I will be recommending the book to everyone, not only to rugby players and film aficionados . . .’

Mark Taylor, co-founder and director of

‘Tom's ongoing struggle with the long-term cost of bullying rings true and ranges from fear, vulnerability and menace, as well as some great moments of magical thinking.’

Tess Knight, general manager at The Co-op Bookshop

'A wonderful touching coming of age novel that is raw, confronting and tender at the same time.'

Cheryl Akle, Literary Agent and Editorial Director at

‘An engrossing and...

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ISBN 9781925184556
PRICE A$32.99 (AUD)

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Featured Reviews

‘It’s funny how art and friendships so seldom mix.’

In 1986, Tom Houghton is a twelve year old boy, growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney with his mother and grandfather. Tom is sufficiently different from most of the other boys to be an irresistible target to bullies. Tom’s escape from reality involves immersing himself in the golden age of Hollywood cinema. Tom reads biographies about the stars, and has made his own catalogue of different actors and their roles.

His grandfather encourages him to realise that there’s more to life than Hollywood, but it’s easier for Tom to escape reality than to confront it. Sadly, his mother provides a near perfect role model for escapism. When Tom discovers that Katharine Hepburn, his favourite actress, modelled herself on her brother Thomas Houghton Hepburn, his imagination runs wild. Thomas Houghton Hepburn hanged himself in 1921, but Tom Houghton thinks that if he can invent a new identity for himself he’ll find success. Surely his detractors will change their opinion of him? Can Tom find success in this way?

‘I was about to become the real Thomas Houghton.’

In 2014, aged forty, Tom Houghton is offered an acting role in Scotland. Can Tom make the most of this opportunity? Can he escape his past, and the consequences of some of his choices? What has Tom Houghton made of his life? Where does Tom Houghton fit into the world?

‘The Tom Houghton you thought you were never existed.’

I had very mixed feelings reading this novel. I did not like Tom Houghton, but I felt sorry for him. I kept hoping that he would gain some insight, come to terms with himself and realize his potential. Mr Alexander has done a wonderful job of creating Tom Houghton as a complicated character. He’s not (at least, not to me) heroic and he doesn’t often take responsibility for his actions or their consequences but he is human and very vulnerable. How much of life is predetermined by fate? How much is governed by experience and opportunity?

I didn’t like Tom Houghton, but I wondered which personification of Tom Houghton I was reacting to. Was it the child, retreating from the bullies, building barriers to his success while protecting himself? Was it the insecure adult trying to protect himself from failure? Was it the boy and then the man trying to come to terms with his sexuality?

Who is Tom Houghton?

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Australia for the opportunity to read this book.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Who is Tom Houghton?

I had to find out.

What a captivating tale! What captivating story telling! This dual narrative (told in an alternating chapter style) is the life story of Tom Houghton, who has grown up in a working class suburb of Sydney's west. He was a sad child and lonely, a latch-key kid with a tormented mother. Young Thomas is struggling to deal with who and what he is and as a result he is bullied at school. His escape is rather unique, his obsession with the golden era of Hollywood a strange compulsion for young boy.
The second narrative is a present day Tom. He's grown up, he's become an actor and a father (and not a good one). While he tries to connect with the people in his life, Tom remains a non entity as an adult.

Mesmerising, haunting, sad, this story seems so real-life and tragic that as a reader I am forced to wonder how it is that some people can be so cruel. Tom Houghton will stay with me long after I've closed the book.

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Tom Houghton is a well-written story about a complex and tortured character. It juxtaposes the past with the present to give us some understanding of why the adult Tom is the way he is. The result is an intriguing psychological profile.

Tom Houghton is a strange little boy, and it’s Tom as a boy that carries this book. The structure is one chapter in the past with Tom as a bullied twelve year old, followed by one chapter with Tom as he is now, a gay actor with massive insecurities, then we have another chapter with the boy and so on. The ‘Tom the boy’ thread tells the story of Tom’s determination to show those who bully him that he’s worth far more than they could ever imagine. After several chapters of just getting to know Tom and his obsession with Hollywood, Tom’s teacher decides that the class will have a Hollywood dress up day and all the children will wear costumes. For the rest of that thread, the reader is wondering what it actually is that his neighbour is creating for him and, as we fear, will he walk into his classroom wearing a dress? Without this question, the book would have no real plot at all, and even then, this is fairly subtle, but it’s there, and it holds together what would otherwise be simply a character study. The end of it wasn’t what I expected either.

Writers are taught that the best characters are flawed. They should also make poor choices sometimes because this creates drama and makes them like real people. Alexander has certainly managed that here, but it’s also a good idea not to make characters unlikeable, particularly in a book that is so totally character driven, and in this area Alexander walks a fine line. Young Tom has our compassion; we see a boy in a world of his own, misunderstood and lonely, but Tom the adult is rather too often for my taste a bit of a pig. The extent of his stupidity when he’s blind drunk is no doubt very realistic, but I certainly don’t like him for it, and when you’re spending all those hours with a character, if you don’t like them it taints your reading experience. Liking is a purely personal area though; my feelings do not take away the fact that Mr Alexander is an excellent writer. It does, however, contribute to the reasons why I haven’t awarded this fine book five stars.

Had the adult Tom thread had more of a plot—as in, an aim thwarted then struggled to achieve—I could have forgiven him his stupidity and immaturity, but he even lacked a desire to learn from his mistakes, and the adult thread overall lacked direction. The character did finally develop the desire to become a more reasonable person, but by then the tale had wandered and had it not been for young Tom I could easily have put it down.

Readers should be aware that there is some homosexual sex in the book, not much and not terribly explicit, enough to intrigue those who are interested and turn off any with homophobic tendencies.

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The thing that stood out most for me while reading Tom Houghton was the realness of it, and there's an intimacy to it that comes from being able to look so closely at a person's life from the perspective of both their childhood and adulthood - that I think makes Tom Houghton quite a confronting book to read.

We move between two narratives, beginning with Tom as an adult and then shifting to him as a twelve year old. I found the narrative following older Tom fairly inconsequential, and as a character I didn't like him that much. Having said that, the way he is, is a direct result of the what happens in the narrative of young Tom and what he experienced as a child.

As a twelve year old Tom is confused about his sexuality; highly intelligent; and is apart from his classmates in all ways possible. He is a loner, and his makes him an easy target for bullying. In order to escape reality, he immerses himself in a fantasy world built on the golden era of Hollywood. which Alexander says only acts to "solidify his position as social outcast".

If I'd read a book about Tom that only showed him as an adult, I would probably hate him as a character. But the juxtaposition of his adult life with his childhood probably makes me feel sympathy towards him more than anything else. Young Tom knew who he was and who he wanted to be, and was determined to show that person to the world. As a character, he is the perfect example of how society can often make us turn away from the person the we want to be, and instead become something we feel we are expected to be. We are forced to conform, and even if we don't entirely conform, we are bound to lose something of our real self in the process.

Tom Houghton is a sad and sobering reminder of how more often than not, being different - which we are always told is ok to be - can lead to being made a target and the impacts this can have later in life.

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster (Australia) and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!


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One of the better read so far for this year. I loved that NZ featured in the book as well. The story revolves Tom and his life so far. This man has major issues, he drinks too much, his mother is in & out of hospital, he has no lasting relationships, he has almost last his daughter Lexie. His career is in the toilet as he messes everything up when he drinks too much. He is obsessed with Katherine Hepburn he has all her films and tons of information but he wants to know more about her brother, they share the same name & birth date. He falls along the way and loses himself but hopefully in the end he is at peace with himself and his choices that he has made along the way. What a really interesting story it had me from the beginning as most of us have been bullied and we have been ashamed with ourselves. It was full of movie facts and fab cities. Great story that will keep you entertained

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This review will be posted on the Goodreads link on 1/9/2015

Tom Houghton is narrated in two time frames. One being 12 year old Tom, a loner, constantly bullied at school but be it optimism or delusion he always feels certain he is destined for greater things. He is smarter than his peers, which also sets him apart. He lives with his mother, who is devoted to him but lives on a constant cycle of highs and lows and his Grandfather who thinks that Tom’s obsession with Hollywood is unhealthy but doesn’t quite know what to do with him. The other narrator is 40 year old Tom, a stage actor and star in his own right, heading on a path of self destruction while still trying to find his place in the world.

Young Tom’s narrative is heart-breaking. You can’t help but feel endeared to him. He is highly intelligent and still has an innocence about him, a naivety. While reading this story I internet searched the photo of Thomas Houghton Hepburn that Tom refers to on occasions and, when its finally revealed, the costume that Tom is so excited about wearing to his school. These photos give such good visuals to go with the story.

The grown up Tom was very hard to like. He was nasty and a real diva constantly on a path of self destruction, destroying friendships by his insults and behaviour.

The story is not full of bullying and drunken outbursts. There are some endearing moments, especially with the characters of Mal and Hanna.
Mal and Hanna would have to be my favourite characters and two very important people in Tom’s life. Mal understands young Tom and accepts him as he is. Hanna doesn’t take any nonsense from grown up Tom. She sticks by him but tells him when he has messed up. She is straight to the point and honest.

The story touches on topics of bullying, family, friendship, love, acceptance, forgiveness, the pressures of needing to conform to a society standard and how our environment when we are young has an effect on who we will be later in life.

With thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for my copy to read and review.

Contains limited sexual content and coarse language.

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Tom Houghton by Todd Alexander was an absolute delight to read, that will pull at your heart strings. The story is told from two alternating narratives, Tom Houghton as an adult, the other himself as a 12 year old boy. Through his story as a child we come to understand how Tom became the adult he is today.

As a boy growing up in the 1980's Tom lives in the Western suburbs of Sydney with his mother and grandfather. To say that Tom's family is dysfunctional would be an understatement. He is obsessed with Hollywood particularly the Silver Screen of the Golden Age and Katherine Hepburn is his favourite actress. Tom is a lonely boy with no father, no siblings and no friends, who is struggling with his sexuality. Tom is bullied relentlessly because of not fitting into the world of football and rough housing. To cope with the stress of bullying and his home life, he spends his time cutting out pictures from magazines and cataloging all of Hollywood's Stars. He is living in a world of dreams that are reaching the point of delusion as an escapism from his heartbreaking reality. The lonelier he becomes, the more obsessed he becomes with Katherine Hepburn and what he learns about her will change Tom forever.

As a man, Tom is certainly not the beautiful young man full of optimism and hope that we met as a child. It seems in many ways the years have broken him down. He has a younger boyfriend but his insecurities and doubts about himself are destroying the relationship and all that it could be. He is a stage actor who is bitter and seems jealous of fellow colleagues accomplishments. Tom is an alcoholic and not a pleasant one at that. As such, sadly he is not reaching his full potential as either and actor or as a man.

Tom needs to revisit himself as a boy to heal the man. It is only then will he understand just who is Tom Houghton.

Alexander has written a story, that reminds us of what it is to be human and that it okay to be different. We need to learn to love ourselves and others for exactly who they are. It also never hurts to remind people that any type of bullying is never okay. It is a book I would love to see in high school libraries.

4 out of 5 stars

I would like to thank Netgalley, Todd Alexander, and Simon and Schuster Australia for a copy to read in exchange for an honest and fair review.

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