Book Review: Bastion Point: 507 days on Takaparawha, by Tania Roxborogh

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_bastion_pointErica Tito thinks she’s going to spend the summer training her new horse (and also working to pay for it) but her parents suddenly have quite a different plan.

In 1977, the Muldoon government announced a housing development on Ngāti Whātua reserve land. This land had been reduced in size over time, by compulsory acquisition, despite having once been declared absolutely inalienable.

Many of the Ngāti Whātua iwi quickly returned to Auckland, and set up camp on Takaparawha, in what turned out to be a very long protest which ultimately saw more than 200 people arrested, and the buildings destroyed. However a subsequent Waitangi Tribunal determined that the land was indeed owned by Ngāti Whātua and much of it was returned. (source: Nzhistory.govt.nz)

So, to return to Erica’s story – her parents decide that it’s most important that they join Joe Hawke and the other Ngāti Whātua leaders, and despite Erica’s protests, that’s what happens. However what is intended a summer break turns into almost 18 months of living in leaky tents, on Bastion Point as the family become immersed in the struggle to retain their land.

Tania Roxborogh has created a compelling and entirely credible story, told through the diaries which Erica (who loves reading and writing) keeps throughout this time. The difficulties of living in such conditions are occasionally startling in their description; one which sticks with me is Erica’s note about her clothes smelling of smoke and damp, and trying to get rid of that before going to school so that she would not be embarrassed. But there are also the high points – an understanding and challenging teacher, Erica’s eventual ability as a top debater being drawn out, friendships made and kept despite enormous differences.

The importance of whānau is well-defined, and will resonate with young readers, as will the strength of character of the Tito family, determined to fight for what they know to be right.

The occupation of Bastion Point was not an easy time for Ngāti Whātua, and Roxborogh alludes in a very gentle way to the difficulties between the occupiers and the tribal elders and their advisors on the marae. She has more to say (through Erica) about the politics and the government of the day, and that is a good reminder to those of us who are old enough to remember Bastion Point and the challenges which were thrown out to all New Zealanders.

In all this is a very accessible, engaging and thought-provoking book. I’d recommend it to anyone, but particularly to teachers as a terrific resource either as a read-aloud or a text for study.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Bastion Point: 507 days on Takaparawha
by Tania Roxborogh
Part of the My New Zealand Story series
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434795

Book Review: The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain, by Julie Lamb

Available in bookshops nationwide.

The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain is shortlisted for the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction, and the Best First Book Award in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_the_discombobulated_life_of_summer_rain.jpgIt’s hard not to want to read a book which has “discombobulated” in its title, and thanks to Margaret Mahy it’s a word that many kids will be familiar with.

From the first paragraphs, I was hooked. Summer Rain is a feisty, funny character who has a particularly weird family. Her mother departed the family early in the piece, and with her dad not able to cope, Summer spends much of her school week with her grandfather, Pop – shrewd as a ferret and cunning as a weasel, but also a good mate to Summer, most of the time. His lifelong stinginess means he’s loaded, but you would not know this from the dilapidated farmhouse and the state of Dock’n’Thistle, his rundown farm.

Summer feels that she does not fit in well with her peers, is a bit embarrassed by her living conditions, and makes up for it by being a bit of a clown, which makes her popular with the boys, and viewed more cautiously by many of the girls.

The story is well-developed – a romance between Pop and a local serial marrier (I made that up, I can’t find the right word!) brings Summer tremendous angst and she works to bring this to an end.

How she does that would be a spoiler, but along the way the ideas of real friendship, family loyalty and individuality are well-explored. It’s a bit wacky – quite a bit, actually – but that adds to the charm. I did find my credibility a little bit stretched once or twice but I didn’t really find that mattered in the end.

Julie Lamb writes in an easy, flowing manner and there’s heaps of humour along with the magic. Oh, I did not mention magic before? Well, there is quite a lot, as it happens. But you’ll need to read this book to find out just what that magic does.

Highly recommended, likely to appeal to girls more than boys I think, and definitely worthy of its place in the Book Awards finalists.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

The Discombobulated life of Summer Rain
by Julie Lamb
Published by Submarine (Makaro Press)
ISBN 9780994123701

Book Review: Helper and Helper, by Joy Cowley

Available in bookshops nationwide.

Helper Helper is shortlisted for the Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction in the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 

cv_hleper_and_helper.jpgI am almost ashamed to say that I had not read any Lizard and Snake stories before this collection. In my defence, my work was mostly with older teenagers, so I think I can be forgiven!

However, what quirky, credible characters these two are. A bit slippery, on the one hand, but good friends working mostly together. Sounds familiar? Joy Cowley has a very accomplished way of working a little morality, a lot of humanity and a great understanding of human behaviour into each story in this collection. There’s also much clever humour, and occasionally a small measure of sadness.

The fabulous illustrations by Gavin Bishop contribute a great deal to the book, picking up on small details and bringing the characters to life in a delightful way. The endpapers are particularly worth a look!

It’s a wonderful collection and brings to mind the gentle fables of Aesop. It also brought to my mind the less gentle Cautionary Tales by Hilaire Belloc. I wonder if they are still popular, with their grim punishments for bad behaviour? I imagine that modern children will prefer Snake and Lizard.

It’s another great publication from Gecko Press, and I hope that there are more stories still to come from Joy Cowley about these unlikely best friends. Most deservedly a nominee for the NZ Children’s Book Awards.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Helper and Helper
by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Gavin Bishop
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776571055

Book Review: Wave Me Goodbye, by Jacqueline Wilson

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_wave_me_goodbye.jpgOn the Guardian book pages, among a whole range of comments about books on the evacuation of kids from London during WW2, there’s a comment : ‘I wish Jacqueline Wilson would write a novel about this, it would be brilliant’. Prophetic words, apparently!

There have been zillions of books written about the experiences – real or fictional – of wartime evacuees. Some of them have been wonderful, and have stood the test of still being read and in print – Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian is one which is frequently mentioned as being outstanding.

Wave Me Goodbye is going to take its place among the best books of this type, I think.
Jacqueline Wilson writes with humour, insight, compassion and understanding. Her characters all are credible and engaging.

When Shirley’s mum says she’s going on holiday, at first Shirley is excited – but then the reality of what kind of a holiday it will be hits home, and she is by turns reluctant, scared and angry about having to leave her mother in London. But off she goes, in her red patent leather shoes (!) with her suitcase too heavy to manage because instead of packing one book, she packed her whole library. What a heroine!

However the reality of being billeted in a country village hits home when the residents are asked to select the kids they are willing to take in. Of course there are more kids than available beds and it all gets quite dramatic as Shirley and the two remaining – and unprepossessing – boys are virtually forced on to an unwilling ( and reclusive) hostess.

I don’t want to give away the plot, so will confine myself to saying that despite an ill-advised escape (complete with gun!) all turns out well.

Many themes run through this excellent story, but what develops very strongly is Shirley’s ability to understand the perspectives of others and to be aware of how circumstances can shape us. The librarian in me wants to link this to the fact that she’s a reader … but maybe she’s just smart.

The friendships made across class, age and educational barriers are poignant and well-developed and build in the reader a wish to see how this all turns out.

It’s a story which will please many readers, and is a great addition to the books written about the Blitz and its repercussions. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Wave Me Goodbye
by Jacqueline Wilson
Published by Doubleday Children’s
ISBN 9780857535177

Book Review: Black Faggot and other plays, by Victor Rodger

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_Black_Faggot_Reading playscripts is something I used to do for pleasure as a teenager. (Fair to say I was maybe a bit besotted with theatre then, not to mention being a bit of an oddball as well!)

So putting my hand up to read some about 60 years later is either a sign of regressing, or a renewed interest.  I’m going for renewed interest.

It was absolutely fascinating to read a script again. Victor Rodger certainly packs a punch in his dialogue, but it’s what lies beneath the script that provides the real substance – values, stereotypes, pre- and mis-conceptions are all challenged in these three plays.

They are sometimes shocking, often funny, and above all they challenge the reader in many ways, so I can only guess at the power which must emanate from the stage productions when the challenge is really laid down.

Black Faggot, (the book title, and the first play) grew from a response to Destiny Church and their position on same-sex marriage, and it’s a powerful and thought-provoking work. VUP has kindly allowed me to quote from the comments by Tanu Gago:

‘I never understood what it took to love another man until I was transformed by the love of another man…………………….on the other side of all that pain and fear we are also capable of experiencing real love. The type of love that saves our lives.’

This, to me, is the essence of Black Faggot. There is a very positive message here for young men, in particular, struggling with their gender identity.

The other plays, At the Wake and Club Paradiso give equally thought-provoking messages. At the Wake shows the difficulty some of us have with acceptance of the other, in whatever shape or persona that comes, and again is a deeply moving play.

Club Paradiso challenged me more; the violence is too much for me and the play shocked me deeply on several fronts – the mindless violence, fuelled presumably by methamphetamine, the sexual bullying and the graphic details depict a kind of place where, fortunately, I have never been. However the play has a innate truthfulness, and that is perhaps why I struggled with it – as a straight pakeha woman of a certain age, I hate to think that behaviour like this exists, even though I know that it does.

More power to Victor Rodger, is all I can say. It takes a brave and accomplished writer to deliver work like this.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Black Faggot and other plays
by Victor Rodger
Published by VUP
ISBN 9781776561032

 

 

Book Review: Release, by Patrick Ness

cv_release.jpgAvailable today in bookshops nationwide.

The novel explores relationships in all their complexity through the character of teenager Adam Thorn, taking place over the course of a single day.

Ness said he was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. ‘I feel like I can’t write a good book unless I scare myself, and what’s scarier than taking your inspiration from one of the finest novels ever written in English? The intense focus of Mrs Dalloway, its psychological power, seemed an unexpectedly superb way to portray a YA character.’

And so it has transpired. This is a remarkable – and remarkably different – offering from the awesome Patrick Ness.

There will be no spoilers from this reviewer – but the book deals with the tangled mess of family and personal relationships, homophobia, sexuality, religious bigotry and murder just for starters.

As with all of Ness’ work, there’s much more going on than the surface story. I want to say ‘the secondary plot’ but in fact the ‘other’ story clings and twines its way around the novel until the strands finally come together – a bit like the tendrils of a creeper winding up a host plant until they reach the top, and join. So not really a secondary plot at all, but an integral part of the story, woven and meshed throughout the day-long events that make up Adam’s complex and demanding day.

The characters are wonderfully written – in particular the depth of friendship between Angela and Adam is brilliantly drawn – and credible.

The struggles that all of us face at some time in our growing-up and developing into the adults we want to be are there with all their attendant complexities; Ness has the ability to make the reader think and reflect on significant moments in one’s own life, with compassion and understanding. Even the bleakest situations can be viewed thus, even though the thoughts and actions involved may not be supported.

The tensions in relationships, the heartaches and thrills of first loves, the humour, the depth of understanding of young people discovering their sexuality – all of these are written with immense understanding and compassion. Patrick Ness is reconfirmed as a truly wonderful writer.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Release
by Patrick Ness
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406331172

 

Book Review: See You in the Cosmos, by Jack Cheng

cv_see_you_in_the_cosmosAvailable now in bookshops nationwide.

This book centres on Alex, an 11 year old (but “13 in responsibility years”) who is fascinated by rockets and life on other planets. His mission is to launch his own rocket complete with his iPod on which he has recorded his comments about life on earth and what it’s really like for him.

It’s fair to say that Alex is not your average 11 year old: his dad is dead, his mum has a raft of issues of her own, and his older brother does not even live in the same town, so Alex is pretty much left to his own devices.  He is very resourceful, and very responsible. He sets out, without permission, because his mom is having one of her “days when she stays in bed and does not respond, to go to the South West High Altitude Rocket Festival taking along his dog Carl Sagan – named for his hero – and his rocket. This is where it turns into a road trip – and what a trip – there’s a zillion twists and turns and potential disasters and that’s before he even  gets to the festival.

It’s on the whole strangely credible, even if at the same time quite unlikely, and it gives the reader a great deal to ponder on about resilience, bravery and the importance of family. It helps that all the total strangers Alex meets up with are helpful, responsible and willing to take him as he is, which is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum. I don’t think that is particularly realistic but it does keep the momentum up. Faced with all the challenges which Alex encounters, most of us would give up and find a quick way home, but it’s part of the delight of this book that he doesn’t. It also shows an awareness on the author’s part of the challenges posed to, and by, kids on the “spectrum”, and the single mindedness which so often accompanies this.

I think it is an excellent story. It’s well-constructed, funny and sad sometimes at the same time, and Alex and the rest of the main characters (who cover a very wide range of the odd and the particularly peculiar, all good-hearted as can be) are quite credible.

Highly recommended for those who loved “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “Wonder”, but also for anyone who loves a story where challenges are confronted,  analysed and resolved through good will and compassion.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

See You in the Cosmos
Jack Cheng
Published by Puffin
ISBN: 9780141365602