Book Review: Flight of the Fantail, by Steph Matuku

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

Flight-of-the-Fantail.pngOn the way to a school camp, a bus full of Kōtuku High students crashes in remote New Zealand bush. Devin, Eva and Rocky are three of a handful of students to survive. As they try to find food, shelter and safety, it quickly becomes clear that their broken phones are the least of their problems – something terrifying is haunting this temperamental valley. With a supernatural force taking over their minds and refusing to let go, the problem for Devin, Eva and Rocky is not whether they can survive the bush: it is whether they can survive their own worst nightmares.

A novel which begins with a fast-pace crash scene and ends with a blood-curdling finale, the plot of Flight of the Fantail hurtles along at a break-neck speed. The first YA novel from award-winning Taranaki writer Steph Matuku, Flight of the Fantail will appeal to those who enjoy horror, thriller and a science fiction adventure with an Aotearoa twist.

Flight of the Fantail
may have a pretty name, but it is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Teenagers physically and mentally fight against supernatural forces, while also fighting against themselves (with plenty of gore and grisly death involved). There are moments of levity amid the darkness – such as the accidental playing of the Simpsons theme tune on a glitchy cellphone during a burial – but the overall tone is grim.

Matuku’s strength is in her characterisation. As well as introducing a diverse range of well-developed characters, she does a fantastic job of slowly revealing each character’s inner motives, the nightmares that haunt their waking dreams, and the deep secrets they would much rather keep hidden if they were given the choice. In a complex plot with multiple main characters, this is an impressive achievement.

With symbolic pīwakawaka, kōtare, eels and patupaiarehe, Flight of the Fantail is a distinctly New Zealand novel infused with te reo and Māori mythology. It is also unabashedly contemporary, with teenage jargon juxtaposed against conversations about ancient myths. Eva finds moa bones in a cave and her description highlights this juxtaposition: ‘Rocky referred to it irreverently as Big Bird, but Eva was in awe of it. Those massive birds had always seemed more like myth than fact to her, and here one was, just lying there. It was like finding the remains of a dragon.’

The chapters switch between the main teenagers and the adults who are searching for them, and the motif of the foreboding fantail flits and darts to connect the scenes. As Rocky later explains, pīwakawaka are known to be messengers of death: ‘If a fantail flies into your house … it means that you or someone you know is going to die.’ Like the pīwakawaka’s presence and the kōtare preying on the fish in the river, Flight of the Fantail is full of unresolved tension which keeps the reader in a constant state of suspense.

However, while the teenage characters are convincing, the adult characters fall slightly flat. The company who own the land where the students went missing – Seddon Corporation – keep not only the families but also Search and Rescue ‘out of the Zone’ during the ‘rescue mission’. Although it later becomes clear why this is the case, it is difficult to believe the families and rescuers would be so easily duped. The reasoning for the electrical disturbances – the minerals tokatanium and terrascious – are also too obviously made-up for the reader to suspend disbelief.

Despite these minor issues, Flight of the Fantail is effortlessly readable. There are beautiful descriptions, such as: ‘He scrambled forward into the cluster of nīkau. Nothing but muted browns and emerald green and flashes of sunlight through the filigree of tree ferns, no sound but his own harsh panting and the drumbeat inside him. The smell of wet earth was cloying, ancient, suffocating.’ With short chapters and a fast pace, this is an addictive novel and a great read for those who enjoy a gritty, gory adventure story. Even better, it is set in the wild unpredictable nature of our own country.

Reviewed by Rosalie Elliffe

Flight of the Fantail
by Steph Matuku
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775503521

Book Review: Maea te Toi Ora Māori health transformations, by Simon Bennett, Mason Durie, Hinemoa Elder, Te Kani Kingi, Mark Lawrence and Rees Tapsel

cv_maori_health_transformationsAvailable in selected bookshops nationwide.

Maea te Toi Ora Māori Health Transformations is an introduction to a framework for thinking about and transforming Māori mental health based on Māori values, and a strong case for the transformative potential of practice guided by this framework. It is a history of the assessment and treatment of mental illness in Aotearoa, and the policy transformations that have arisen from the realisation that a Māori response may be best suited for Māori mental health needs.

Although oriented towards Māori mental health, the text is absorbing for anyone with an interest in mental health, health policy-making, indigenous conceptions of health and treatment models, or the use of case studies in research. Although six authors collaborate in this work, their shared commitment to this framework means the text is a cohesive whole. Some of the authors are architects of this framework, and all are recognised practitioners.

From their respective disciplines, the authors analyse the impact of alienation from and reconciliation with identity on different dimensions of well-being. Some areas are addressed by several authors from their respective disciplinary backgrounds, and this iteration helps to ground concepts unfamiliar to the non-specialist reader.

The text can also be read as a handbook for steering policy change, and provides an insight into the philosophy behind the Whānau Ora policy. One of the authors, Mason Durie, chaired the Whānau Ora taskforce.

Before they illustrate their application of the framework with individual cases, the authors trace the whakapapa of this philosophy grounded in Māori values with its roots in traditional practice. They acknowledge the trailblazing practitioners who have ensured this model’s long-term viability, despite changes in government policy.

Durie’s Te Whare Tapa Whā, or four cornerstones of wairua (spirit), hinengaro (mind), tinana (body), and whānau, is the conceptual heart of the book and its unifying thread. In this framework, mental illness is not isolated dysfunction, but an imbalance between emotions, relationships, spirituality and body. The ultimate goal is mauri ora –a life force flourishing spiritually, mentally, physically and socially.

An example of a model presented in the text is Hinemoa Elder’s Waka Oranga/ Waka Kuaka, presented in a chapter solely in te reo. Combining metaphors of waka and flocking godwits (kuaka), practitioners and whanau work together towards health goals and provide mutual support to reach the destination: the well-being of patient and whānau. To translate (and paraphrase) some of the principles behind the model: The whole whānau is the patient, mātauranga Māori is a source of remedies, identity is at the heart of well-being, making contact with a person’s roots is medicinal.

These principles recur throughout the text, as does the outcome of healing wounds in the psyche by reconnecting the patient with their identity. This process is nurtured through bonding with the professional, applying the wisdom transmitted through whakataukī (traditional knowledge encapsulated in sayings) and healing rituals. Case studies are the preferred analytical tool and methodological foundation, and ensure the reader does not lose sight of the purpose of this framework: the well-being of people and their communities.

The case studies emphasise positive outcomes and transformative potential. They are either direct adaptations of an individual interaction or the merging of several cases to create an archetypical patient. This knowledge arises from whakawhanaungatanga with the tangata whaiora (identification of common ground between practitioner and patient). Elder even extends the application of case studies to geographical places, incorporating the impact of historical scars on the landscape on the mental health of those who live nearby.

Some make for fascinating reading, such as one case in which mental illness coexisted with deeply held Māori spirituality. In this case, the guiding philosophy described in this text facilitated a treatment able to secure the patient’s well-being without undermining their beliefs.

The authors prefer tangata whaiora, literally “health seeker,” over patient or consumer. However, the authors recognise that the purchasing model of health has enabled Māori providers to flourish and means government can contractually require health providers to incorporate Māori priorities, such as whānau engagement, te reo and tikanga, karakia, rongoā (medicinal herbs and therapies), and access to tohunga or healers.

A central theme is that Māori well-being can be achieved by considering a Māori worldview, which the text broadly conceptualisies as one in which personal identity makes sense beyond the individual. The authors stress that not all Māori have or wish for the same connection with te ao Māori, which is why the text does not advocate for a universal approach for all Māori.

Although the overall tone is optimistic and inspiring, the authors acknowledge the challenges of implementing a Māori framework for Māori mental health. Rees Tapsell speaks of the burden Māori practitioners can bear if they are an institution’s sole source of mātauranga Māori. He recognises the benefits of cultural programmes, but highlights that often only a few knowledgeable staff can implement them. He also warns of treating these programmes solely as a didactic tool rather than a guiding treatment philosophy.

Similarly, Elder meditates on the challenges of meeting legislative provisions to engage whanau, hapū and iwi, and observes that they can only bear fruit if the practitioner has the knowledge and commitment to engage with these groups on their own terms. She poses questions for practitioners that help them understand tangata whaiora and their communities, and her case studies demonstrate the rewards for both practitioner and patient when these provisions are fulfilled in the true spirit of the concepts they invoke.

This text is compelling because it puts its philosophy into practice: it acknowledges history of people and place, it is built on dialogue, and its recommendations are guided by mātauranga and supported by whakataukī. Encouragingly, it shows even timid steps towards biculturalism in service provision can support and empower giant leaps by visionary practitioners towards a more responsive framework for Māori.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd

Maea te Toi Ora – Māori health transformations
by Simon Bennett, Mason Durie, Hinemoa Elder, Te Kani Kingi, Mark Lawrence and Rees Tapsel
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502975

Book Review: Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation, by Margaret Mutu et al.

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_ngati_kahu.pngThe summit of Rangikāpiti Pā in the Far North town of Mangōnui overlooks the wide expanse of Tokerau Moana (dubbed Doubtless Bay by a quickly convinced Cook) and a vast swathe of Ngāti Kahu’s rohe (territory). Similarly, Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation, sure to become an equally imposing landmark on the northern landscape, is a sweeping overview of this iwi’s physical and emotional topography – its memories and heartaches, struggles and victories.

Just as Ngāti Kahu draws its strength from its many different hapū, so the Portrait is made richer by its wide range of sources. These include irreplaceable oral histories gathered by the project’s historians, documentary evidence of wrongful land purchases, maps, quotations from an extensive bibliography of other works, excerpts from letters, and testimonies presented during the settlement process. Each of these constituent parts come together to trace a remarkable hakapapa of resistance.

True to its title, the Portrait is a nation building exercise. In scope and reach, covering the long haerenga (journey) from distant beginnings to the challenges of the present, it is not unlike Ranginui Walker’s Ka whawhai tonu matou, Struggle without end. Similarly illustrating events with first-hand experience, and steeped in Ngāti Kahu’s understanding of itself and its place in the world, this work is a pou (a marking post), carved with pepehā (identifying sayings) and hakataukī (proverbs), and kōrero o mua (traditions).

This journey cannot be understood without an awareness of the values that have guided and sustained Ngāti Kahu along the way. The Portrait immerses the reader in this iwi’s worldview with a concise yet complete introduction to its stories of origin and to its unique understanding of principles such as mana, tikanga and rangatiratanga.

An aspect of this work I appreciate as a descendent of a northern iwi is its faithful reflection of the spoken language of the North, for example using hakapapa rather than whakapapa. This small choice makes the Portrait a waka huia (a carved box for the huia feather, a prized possession) for our northern language and an expression of our identity for the rest of the motu (nation).

The Portrait does not overlook the heke (rafters) that sustain the roof, the hapū that form Ngāti Kahu. The inhabitants of kāinga (settlements) nestled in valleys or dotted along the coast all have their time on the paepae (speakers bench). With the deep love of place that comes from generations of continuous occupation, stories of back country rivers and hills and the riches within are told, as only those who have kept the ahi kā (home fires) burning for so long can.

However, what of the stories told by others? The Portrait can at times seem dismissive of claims by neighbouring iwi over lands and resources Ngāti Kahu considers its own. However, it also acknowledges the long-standing kinship among the iwi of Muriwhenua before the borders and labels demanded by the settlement process were laid down. It considers these disputes part of a strategy by government to exacerbate and manipulate the minor quarrels that inevitably arise between close neighbours. How these will be resolved remains to be seen, but if other iwi in the North (including my own) replicate this Portrait to make their case, the compilation and the preservation of these stories will make us all the richer.

The Portrait’s collaborators include Margaret Mutu, leader and professor of Māori political practice, history and tikanga at Auckland University. Her influence can be felt not only in the text, but also in her photos of significant sites for the iwi. While these whakaahua (images) are stunning, in conjunction with the text they enable the reader to appreciate the true meaning of these places for the local people. In this way, we learn that the blindingly white sands of Karikari Peninsula are not just inviting beaches, but they are also wāhi tapu – resting places for the kōiwi (remains) of ancestors, we understand why the peaks along the backbone of Ngāti Kahu’s lands are known as Maungataniwha, and we discover that the dense bush on the slopes of these hills is in fact a veritable apothecary of rongoā Māori (Māori medicine).

These are timely reminders of what comes of short-sighted exploitation of these resources. The realm of Tangaroa has been emptied of its bountiful kaimoana – scallops, mussels, and fish; the realm of Tāne can no longer sustain the fat kukupa (kererū) in numbers able to sustain great feasts; and the realm of Tūmatauenga has been cleared of the fruit of human labour, the massive gardens that once fed the North with a rich variety of foods. As one kaumātua ruefully observes: “There were many gardens back in the day, but since the Pākehā came we now have PAK’n’SAVE instead.”

The portrait offers a tangata whenua perspective on the arrival of “our guests from England”. In a tone which would be bemused exasperation if not for the injustices that followed, the Portrait observes the difficulties of the first Pākehā in “living according to the laws of this land”. Despite its dispossession, Ngāti Kahu tells of the arrival of these guests not with anger, but with sadness at how the generous hospitality that was shown to the new arrivals was repaid.

Treaty settlements are generally accompanied by a Deed of Settlement, which sets out an official version of events and of the injustices that are partially remedied. In the absence of an agreed path towards settlement with government, Ngāti Kahu’s Portrait pre-empts this and presents its truth on its own terms. This act of self-determination denounces the failings of the settlement process in Muriwhenua, the flaws of an approach that seeks tidy outcomes within arbitrary deadlines, and the return of divide-and-rule tactics.

This Portrait is more than a testimony to Ngāti Kahu’s tenacious struggle to hold on to its home, it is also a defiant cry of independence, identity and love for the people and land, founded in a deep awareness of the past and hope for the future. It is a rewarding read for anyone with an interest in history, identity, and how memory shapes not only our sense of self, the landscape we live in and the way we imagine our future.

Reviewed by Paul Moenboyd (Te Aupōuri, Ngāti Pāoa, Te Ātiawa)

Ngāti Kahu, Portrait of a Sovereign Nation
by Margaret Mutu, Lloyd Pōpata, Te Kani Williams, Ānahera Herbert-Graves, Reremoana Rēnata, JudyAnn Cooze, Zarrah Pineaha, Tania Thomas, Te Ikanui Kingi-Waiaua
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN  9781775503040

Book Review: Awatea’s Treasure, by Fraser Smith

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_awateas_treasure.jpgThis book is a great delight to read.

Awatea, the main character, has been sent to stay with his grandparents and uncles in the country because his dad is not well. The story is set in the far north of New Zealand, and the atmosphere created by Fraser Smith’s writing is very credible and evocative of life in a reasonably remote area.

I was drawn in to this book from the outset. The uncles, prone to fairly rough practical joking, were scarily good and set the scene well for the development of the book.
It has everything – the already mentioned scary uncles, relaxed but firm grandparents, an empty – possibly haunted – house next door, and beaches and forests to explore, neighbours (a long way away) with a nutty parrot and an unseen son. Magic, adventure, what’s not to like?

It’s an excellent story and I don’t want to give away too much detail, but Awatea finds a tree house with some things which surely belonged to the boy who built it – but who is he? Where is he? Is the treasure really valuable? And where does the guy with the horse fit in?
Just read it! I am sure that like you won’t put it down till you have finished.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Awatea’s Treasure
by Fraser Smith
Huia Publishers 2016
ISBN 9781775502944

Book Review: The Marble Maker, by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan

 

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

the-marble-maker“Fire up the stoves! Wind up the cranks! Open the hatch! It’s marble-making time!” And what a marble-making session it is! The self-proclaimed Queen of the Marble Season is a girl on a mission – to be included as a marble-maker extraordinaire in the pages of The Book of Marbles. She has already created marbles following recipes in the book and her big dream is to join other Magnificent Marble Makers by coming up with her own creation.

But just what will be magnificent enough? Off she goes to her lab, joined by her trusty assistant Winston the sheep (because every inventor needs a sheep assistant!), and so begins a slightly chaotic and funny creative process. Readers will enjoy the crazy ingredients considered including: the teeth bling from a retired rapper, three pints of swooshy night air and one hefty snort from a yeti too tired to sleep. The colourful illustrations offer lots of action and details to giggle at, and the marble season scene under a pohutakawa tree evokes the author’s own childhood memories of school marble fun and magic – the inspiration for the story.

How brilliant! To see a young girl keen on invention and fully embracing her passion and dream. With concerns about the gender differential in STEM subjects (the number of girls continuing with science, technology, engineering and mathematics decreases as they progress through school), it is great to have an enthusiastic female inventor/scientist buzzing about her lab filled with beakers and cauldrons. Cotter and Morgan have shown that fun can be found in STEM fields and that it is cool to enjoy science – the Queen of Marbles displays her passion in the badge on her coat: an atomic whirl symbol containing a love heart.

Delivered with energetic and engaging text, there is a powerful positive message hiding within the fun language and crazy scenes:  a message of encouragement and of never giving up, even when you fail. Encouraging others to achieve, that they too may realise their dream is also a worthy message to pick up from Winston and also in the closing pages: “But there are lots of blank pages, too. That’s because there’s always room for more Magnificent Marble Makers. And you never know who might be next.”

This is the second collaboration by Cotter and Morgan; they have previously worked on the award winning Keys, also published by Huia and offered in Te Reo Maori and English. The Marble Maker is a fantastic creation; rich in detail, well written, fun and appealing – it’s sure to be a hit!

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The Marble Maker
by Sacha Cotter, Illustrations by Josh Morgan
Huia Publishers, 2016
ISBN: 9781775502241

Book Review: Tuna and Hiriwa, by Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tuna_and_hiriwaOne of the joys of reviewing books is that I get first look at some wonderful adaptations of old tales, and a chance to see our Aotearoa stories being presented to the next generation. Tuna and Hiriwa is a superb example of this.

Set on the banks of the Rangitikei River we meet Hiriwa, the sparkling dancing glow worm. In contrast we then discover Tuna, the eel. He watches and wants what she has. Their conversation suggests a solution to him but his attempts fail miserably. His actions bring about a change for both of them and give a good explanation as why things are as they are. Of course there are always consequences for actions, as Tuna discovers.

This is a simple tale, told in a clear sequential style. The illustrations match the text well, showing the muted colours of the river and the shimmering light of the moon and Hiriwa. I read it to my 10- and 11-year-olds, and they enjoyed the story, but also caught on to the moral of the tale. “Be careful what you wish for”.

Tuna and Hiriwa builds on the growing number of Maori myths and legends which have been produced for our next generation. It is heartening to see authors and illustrators working to ensure teachers and parents have access to good New Zealand picture books. Huia Publishers continue to play an important part in this process.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Tuna and Hiriwa
By Ripeka Takotowai Goddard, illustrated by Kimberly Andrews
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502272

Book Review: Breaking Connections, by Albert Wendt

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 
cv_breaking_connections
I really enjoyed reading this new novel from Albert Wendt. It’s set mostly in New Zealand, and of course is steeped in Samoan and Maori references.

Daniel, the main character, is a university lecturer and poet. As a child, his Samoan parents moved to NZ so that Daniel could be successful – his mother was particular that he should be competent and comfortable in the palagi system, and she used every means she had including a remarkable acting ability, to make him do as she wished. She had largely turned her back on Samoa, although the family values remained strong.

At school, Daniel forms strong and lasting friendships with a disparate group of kids from other Maori and Pacific backgrounds. The Tribe are family, whanau, aiga to one another and remain loyal despite their differences

By university days, the Tribe is still together and the deliberate inclusion of Laura ( a pakeha) by Mere startles them for a time, but Mere is determined to have her friend be part of the Tribe and Laura is accepted. The connection which forms between Laura and Daniel is too strong for them to ignore – although they try! – and they marry. As things go, eventually they split up and Daniel ends up teaching in Hawaii, which is where the novel starts. Wendt then fills in the backstory.

The connections are many, varied and fascinating. They are made and broken inside and between families and family members, in relationships and marriages – but throughout the connections between members of the Tribe are maintained. Even though all of them are aware of Aaron’s criminal connections, they are never spoken about.

The novel deals powerfully with loyalty, love, and relationships. Wendt shows the great force of human emotion – damaging, dangerous, resilient, passionate, supportive – and just how difficult it can be to face up to unpleasant realities in ourselves and others. He is a superb storyteller and I found myself carried along with the characters, by turns truly irritated with Daniel, sorry for his father, angry with Aaron, in awe of Mere and Laura – in short, I was captivated and could not put this book down.

Read it!

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Breaking Connections
by Albert Wendt
Published by Huia Publishers
ISBN 9781775502104