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Conrad Cooper is the most lovable fictional character I have come across since Frankie Parsons in The 10pm Question. He is naïve and inventive, and you are irresistibly drawn into his world by Leonie Agnew, author of award-winning junior fiction book Super Finn (which I am currently enjoying).
Conrad believes in Tane, god of forests and birds. Or rather, he really wants to believe in Tane, because he needs some help getting out of his trouble at home. This leads to all sorts of problems, as he doesn’t know whether a Māori god would listen to a Pakeha kid. But he figures not many people believe in Tane, so he might be first in line when he needs some help.
The book is set against the background of the Bastion Point protests. Conrad asks a lot of questions of people that aren’t his stepfather, Gaz. He knows not to bother Gaz, to avoid getting another rule added to his list. His friend Jasper, who may have questionable motives regarding friendship, is more than happy to help him out with anything that sounds like mischief. Cat-taming and tree-saving are specialities.
When things get too big for us to handle, it is very natural to try faith out, and to seek out a new way of identifying ourselves. Conrad’s way of chatting to Tane throughout the book is just amazing – Agnew is an astounding writer. Conrad’s main adult sounding board is his next door neighbour, Mrs O’Leary, who is from ‘an island called Island…weird, but the people from her country don’t spell it right. The tea-towel manufacturers wrote it like ‘I-R-E-L-A-N-D’. Mrs O’Leary helps out with his questions about religion (‘So Gods are like heroes with powers?’) and provides a safe haven when his parents are having arguments in the wood shed.
Conrad decides because Tane is Maori, he might like Conrad to join the Bastion Point protestors, and when he learns that his former teacher Mr Kelly (once the only Maori teacher at school) is up on the hill, this seals the deal. He makes several visits up there, and it is no surprise when the Point is a major character in the final scene of the book. Mr Kelly is surprised that Conrad believes in Tane, but nonetheless gives him another port in his personal storm.
There are a lot of reasons to recommend this book. Conrad’s search for answers about God and faith are universal, and a reaction to the way he feels about his home life. Both of these are things very rarely dealt with in junior fiction. This book is also very entertaining, as you’d expect from a narrative which is like a letter to Tane, while also delivering some really huge messages. Everybody should read this, no matter what age.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster
Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand
by Leonie Agnew
Published by Puffin NZ