Book Review: Sticking with pigs, by Mary-Anne Scott

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_sticking_with_pigsWell this book gets off to a high-intensity start. In the first chapter we have a kid with Addison’s disease, an alcoholic uncle, a disenchanted teenager and a vague, cello-playing mother (she does not have a great part in this book).

Add to the mix that the uncle is a pig-hunter who is not hugely favoured by his brother (our hero’s father) because of an earlier incident, and you have quite a lot going on.

Wolf the disenchanted teenager does, to be fair, have a bit of an axe to grind, what with his brother being so ill and his parents taken up with that. So when his uncle offers to take him pig-hunting he decides to go. He even gets fit before the big event.

It starts out okay; Wolf copes and despite himself, seems to get a kick out of pitting himself against nature. But of course, it turns to custard when uncle’s knee gives out – after sticking the pig, otherwise it would be a really sad story!

The parts about Wolf’s resilience are well-done, as he struggles to carry out his uncle’s instructions. There are a LOT of difficulties for him to deal with, possibly too many for my taste, but I am sure other readers will thrill to the challenges overcome!

While I didn’t enjoy the book, I think it will very likely appeal to younger male readers and the design of the book is such that it will be appealing to dyslexic kids – double-line spacing, off-white paper, both good things.

So, personally it’s not my sort of read, but I can see it going quite well with younger male readers.

by Sue Esterman

Sticking With Pigs
by Mary-Anne Scott
Published by OneTree House
ISBN 9780995106406

Book Review: Coming Home to Roost, by Mary-Anne Scott

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_coming_home_to_roostThere has been an ongoing discussion in New Zealand bookish circles about YA books for boys; stirred up, in part, due to the controversial banning of Ted Dawe’s Into the River last year. It’s a discussion that has thrown up some interesting questions. What kind of content is suitable and/or unsuitable for younger readers? What control do we (and should we) have over the content young people consume? And perhaps most importantly; How do we get (and keep) boys reading?

It’s an important conversation, and one that should involve less ‘talking at’ or ‘talking around’ and more ‘talking with’ real teenagers. Let’s face it, we all have opinions. And those opinions are mostly based on our own experiences or values rather than on anything concrete.

I’ve never been a teenage boy, and so in that regard I feel quite underqualified to review Coming Home to Roost. But while saying that, there were times when I was reading this that I felt the author didn’t nail the teenage voice. I’ve never heard a teenager (even a musical one) describe watching an orchestral performance as a high similar to smoking drugs, and I felt that the Peter Pan/Elliot ‘boy who never grows up’ analogy was an insult to Elliot’s development in the tradition of the bildungsroman (Holden Caulfield would never have described himself as a whiner).

While there is a glimpse of on-the-nose social realism here, which explores some very real and engaging issues – I’m told that Coming Home to Roost is the first NZ novel to cover teenage pregnancy from the male protagonist’s point of view – I couldn’t help but feel like this story has been sterilized in terms of characterization, content and morality.

To me, the beauty in social realism is struggling with decisions alongside characters. It’s that gut-churney feeling of realising that real lives and real decisions are varied and complex and double-edged and just plain hard. Too often while reading this I felt like I was being fed a moral agenda, like the ‘right’ decision was there all along, and I just had to wait for Elliot to ‘grow up’; to ‘be a man’. And I couldn’t help but ask myself, is that really what our boys want to read?

I am not a teenage boy; and I’m sure many New Zealand teenagers will read and enjoy this book. There is a solid story here. And despite my griping, I still believe it’s a story we need more of.

Reviewed by Emma Bryson

Coming Home to Roost
by Mary-Anne Scott
Published by Longacre
ISBN 9781775538592

Book review: Snakes and Ladders by Mary-Anne Scott

cv_snakes_and_laddersThis book is in bookstores now and is a finalist in the New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.

Set in New Zealand, this book follows the story of Finn. Finn is your average teenager – or at least, that’s what he will tell you. Ever since he moved to a new, expensive school, Finn has taken on another life by keeping his previous one a secret.

After all… who needs to know that his father is on trial for killing a woman? Although Finn is skeptical about this “posh” school, he quickly makes new friends and joins the school orchestra, where he meets Mia. Perhaps his mother was right about sending him away from all of the chaos at home?

Pleased to have a fresh start, Finn continues to keep his secret – but soon it becomes clear that he is not the only one who knows. As rumours begin to spread, Finn struggles to keep the truth under cover. Will he manage it, though? Can he cope with the pressure of living two lives? Is it worth this much effort to tell his friends so many lies? When Finn attends a party after his school ball, everything is changed.

Readers will be impressed by the believable characters that carry out the story of Snakes and Ladders; they each seem so unique yet so easy to imagine. Finn, Mia, Eddie and all the others are the sort of characters that readers will root for, despise, pity and love.
Snakes and Ladders is written with a subtle but clever sense of humour, as demonstrated here:

“That sucks!” Mia sighed into the phone. “What sort of work?”


“Ohmigod! How much do you take off?”

“All…well, as much as we can reach, but we’re supposed to strip completely.”

“Who pays?”

“The guy who owns the orchard, obviously.”

While the humour and tension of Snakes and Ladders makes it a novel well worth reading, be warned; the book progresses very slowly, making it a bit difficult to get into. That said, you will love the strong amount of suspense!

If you want a read that you will enjoy reading over and over again, try Snakes and Ladders – you won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by Tierney Reardon.

Snakes and Ladders
by Mary-Anne Scott
Published by Scholastic
ISBN 9781775430407