Shooting stars – Brian Falkner

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this book, but I actually loved it.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to connect with Egan, especially after the last book I read taking place in modern day Auckland with a male lead was Into the River. But Egan was very likeable, the prime example of innocence and wonder, something with is usually reserved only for young kids, not older teenagers.  It was refreshing to see my city from the eyes of someone new to it, and someone who really doesn’t understand it. Some background, Egan has grown up in hiding in the bush with only his mother for company.  His story is about his journey to find his mother who has suddenly disappeared, while trying to avoid his famous father who was very abusive.  He travels to Auckland in search of her and experiences a first love among many firsts. The way cursing is approached in this book was adorable, as it’s quite clear Egan doesn’t actually know any, and his interpretations are great.  I would recommend this book, it is an excellent story told in journal entries which makes it an easy book to read little and often.

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Into the river – Ted Dawe

For those who don’t know, this book was up for consideration to be banned in New Zealand.  I can see why some would have thought this, but glad New Zealand was mature enough to decide not to ban it.  In fact I recently read that it’s getting a movie deal. If you read the abstract for this book it actually tells you nothing about the story. In fact I think the abstract for this book is pretty awful and useless. This story is about Te Arepa, who is called Devon for most of the book, Te Arepa is an identity he sheds pretty quickly into the book. He is incredibly smart and gets into a private boarding school where he finds a new identity amongst the city and white European New Zealand culture, where he names himself Devon, and sheds his Maori identity. That in itself speaks volumes as he now doesn’t fit in with his own people anymore and doesn’t really fit in with the rich white crowd at his school either. I’m not really sure how reflective this actually is as to what is happening with New Zealand’s Maori youth, but it doesn’t seem too far-fetched. Most of the book happens during Devon’s high school years, the friends he makes, the girls he hooks up with and the shameful and naughty things he gets up to at his boarding school in Auckland so far away from his family in the rural North.  I read this book to completion, but found it a little challenging as I can’t really identify with Devon and his completely male boarding school, I have no actual real life experience with the things he was meant to handle and that made it difficult to keep my attention.  I can see why it was considered for ban though, it alludes to paedophilia (Student-teacher relationships), sex scenes and a rape scene, so if you’re looking at reading this or suggesting someone read it I would rate this as senior read with an age restriction of 16+.

Mortal Fire – Elizabeth Knox

If you like magic and mysterious circumstances you’ll like Mortal Fire. This is the story of Canny Mochrie and how she finds her magic.  Set in Southland (a fictional New Zealand) in 1959, Canny is a Pasifika girl and a mathematical genius who can see something Extra.  That’s how she describes the magic she can see in and on things, they are runes she can’t understand, and no one else can see them.

Canny ends up being shipped off on a trip with her step-brother Sholto over the summer, forcing her to leave the bedside of her best friend Marli who is struck in an iron lung due to Polio. She is anxious and a bit surly until she stumbles upon the magical Zarene Valley and manipulates the situation so she and Sholto must stay at the Zarene family guesthouse.  She then uses her time there to figure out the magic runes that the Zarene’s teach their children.

The plot thickens when she stumbles upon a be-spelled house which imprisons an attractive young man, Ghislain.  As she gets to know him, they fall in love, though if you ask me it is a little bit quick and forced. And as she is discovering more and more about the secrets of magic and the valley, she discovers even more about herself.

This book as some great themes: tragedy, first love, friend and family relationships, all mixed together with magic and mystery told by a pasifika-esque voice which is a rarity in itself.  I enjoyed unravelling this thread and reckon many others might too.

Sylvie the Second – Kaeli Baker

Wow, talk about heavy. Yet this was an easy read despite the content as I read this in a day over a few hours.  Our story teller Sylvie is unnoticed in the middle of her crumbling family.  Her older sister Cate (Calamity Cate as Sylvie calls her) has mental health issues and is hospitalized again for trying to take her own life.  Sylvie, is fed up with always coming in last next to her sister and being completely unnoticed at school.  She dyes her hair and buys some new clothes becoming a completely different person overnight.  This gets her noticed, especially by the boy she’s really into, but also by people she really doesn’t need in her life.

She goes to a party just before school lets out for the year, this story happens over about a three month stretch, including Christmas and New Years, during New Zealand’s summer, and gets into trouble.  She’s caught the eye of the wrong guy and he ends up raping her at the party.  This leaves her confused and miserable.

Her parents are so wrapped up in their own dissolving marriage and hurt and pain of their first born in the mental ward, that they completely skim over Sylvie when she really needs them most.  The only person in her corner is her best friend Belle (of the books, Sylvie is really into alliteration) who helps her get her feet again over the summer as Sylvie struggles with the fallout of her own and others actions.

I rather enjoyed this book, despite the content and feel it gives a good account of how someone so young might deal with the issue of rape.  It also deals with everything positively as I felt Sylvie made all the best possible choices in dealing with her dilemma.

I am Rebecca – Fleur Beale

This book is the second in a burgeoning series by Fleur Beale called ‘The Children of the Faith’.  We follow fourteen year old Rebecca through the rituals of engagement and marriage in a Christian cult like setting within New Zealand.  For those of you familiar with New Zealand’s Gloriavale, a Christian community branded as a cult, this is the essential background and inspiration for this tale. We follow as Rebecca is forced to accept whichever single male of age proposes to her father (she’s not even allowed to be there!), while she has no say in any decision made in her life.

I found this book rather disheartening as a feminist, watching as Rebecca was simply forced to accept what was happening around her without consultation or explanation. In saying that I can see how this might be quite eye opening for a teen, seeing how secretive and silent her and her twin Rachel must be due to how little freedom they are afforded.  This could be a good read for a teen struggling with a lack of perceived freedom as it can show  exactly how bad it could get and may actually be for a person really in Rebecca’s place.