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David Hill has a remarkable output of fiction for young readers. This latest novel traces the history of several generations of two New Zealand families, one tangata whenua, the other Scottish immigrants.
There are eight sections to the novel, each written from the perspective of a family member of each generation. I found this a really interesting way to bring the history of this place and these people to life.
Hill builds an interesting, well-balanced and credible picture of life in New Zealand, in a country area, and is particularly effective in drawing the relationships between the families. There are shared stories which are retold and sometimes recreated in each succeeding generation.
The importance of the land on which the families live, and the river which runs through it, comes through strongly; the shared experiences – happy, sad, dangerous, amusing – help in developing a real sense of knowing the families and understanding the need for and importance of trusted friends and neighbours.
The voices in each section are authentic and the stories are full of interest, danger, excitement and a great understanding of how New Zealand has been shaped by our inhabitants.
There are things which I am sure readers will identify with – for example the axe which almost did for Duncan becomes a kind of taonga and helps to save Alan’s life; the reaction of Hahona’s family when they first hear the bagpipes, and how that reaction becomes part of the shared family histories; the interconnections of the families through marriage – all these and much more are woven into a lovely generational story.
I can see this being a great book to use as a teaching resource, but as well I think it will appeal to a wide readership.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
by David Hill
Published by Penguin Books NZ