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Last year, Mandy Hagar captured my emotions with the powerful story of a teenage girl battling grief and depression, with the outstanding Dear Vincent. This year, she brings us this beautiful tale of a friendship between two different species, courage, loyalty and determination.
Will Jackson does not feel he fits in to the tiny community in the Marlborough Sounds. He is a city youth, hiding out from a brutal attack and the public humiliation of a YouTube video gone viral. Things change for him when a juvenile orca makes his way into the Sounds. Drawn to Will’s fine singing voice, he and the young dolphin strike up a friendship unlike any other, a friendship that transcends the borders of species. But not all are as thrilled by the prospect. The local salmon farmer, a cruel and vindictive man, resents the intrusion and will do anything to protect his captive stock.
The chapters are skillfully interwoven between two narrators − Will and the orca, named Min. Min’s voice is lyrical, melodious, rich in evocative language and charming use of wordplay and prose. Each chapter is heralded with a page of absolutely gorgeous lineart. Will’s story is a little more straightforward in prose, a young man with a strong heart that has been, if not broken, then badly dented. Hagar captures the voice of the youth superbly as she takes him on this journey of friendship, dedication and personal growth.
This is definitely one of the stand-out novels I have read this year, for both its beautiful, rich language and the deep emotional − but never sentimental − power behind the adversity, the tragedy and the triumph.
Very few books have struck a chord in my heart like this one has.
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
Singing Home the Whale
by Mandy Hager
Published by Random House NZ