Tag Archives: adolescence

Into the River – R14

Into the River

I was in my favourite bookshop yesterday, Paige’s Book Gallery, gathering another pile to read. Lesley and I got to chatting about books, and she said that “Into the River” was now classified R14. Now, my mother was on the Film and Lit Review Board for quite a few years, so I know these decisions aren’t taken lightly, but I think this probably opens a whole new can of worms for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, and its categories. It also demands the question, if this book needs to be rated so that children won’t buy it, aren’t there a whole lot of other books in bookshops that need a rating?? What happens with Fifty Shades, for example. It would be bizarre to sell it to young children (under 14) – but it’s not illegal, like selling Into the River would be. And, let’s be honest, being illegal may well have just upped the kudos of the book as well.

I don’t want all the books that win prizes to be sanitised, so I still think that if the judges thought this book merited a prize, it should have got a prize. It’s just that everyone in the category it won a prize in, should be legally allowed to read the book that won! But with the categories as they are, we keep running the risk of excluding the 12 – 14yr old category, or the 8 – 10 yr category. These are critical reading ages for children to be exposed to great literature so that they are motivated to continue reading into a life long habit.

Adults who were readers by choice as children and young adults, in study after study after study, have been shown to earn more, have more employment choices, and generally have more positive life trajectories that those who weren’t. The ‘reading slump’ is a well documented phenomenon, and occurs during the intermediate (Year 7 and 8) and early secondary years (Year 9 and 10). Good quality writing, both fiction and non-fiction, is vital. But what would be appropriate for one group, is just not for the other. Developmentally, these two age groups are very different readers.

What is the purpose of book awards? Sure, they critically acclaim the writer and the book, and that’s a great thing because, for most writers in New Zealand, the hourly rate is rubbish. And as any good behaviourialist knows, everyone needs positive reinforcement of some kind. But, let’s be honest, mostly it’s a commercial exercise. Lesley, at Paige’s, has had ‘The Luminaries’, recent winner of the Booker, positively flying out the door. Teachers, librarians, parents and other people who control the book buying in children’s lives, rely on book awards for guidance. We can’t possibly read every book – no matter how hard we try!

I have advocated for this before, but I really think that there should be four fiction categories in the NZ POST Children’s Book Awards:
– picture books (everyone!)
– junior fiction (8+)
– intermediate fiction (11+)
– young adult (14+)

Read below the decision by the Film and Literature Review Board to restrict sales of ‘Into the River’ by Ted Dawe

Into the River

R14 Parental advisory explicit content (Film and Literature Board of Review decision)

Date Registered: 08/01/2014

Into the River is a book by New Zealand author Ted Dawe. In September 2013 it was classified as unrestricted by the Classification Office after being submitted by the Department of Internal Affairs because of a complaint from a member of the public.

An application was made to the Film and Literature Board of Review for a review of the Classification Office’s decision. The Board of Review classified the book as R14.

How a review works

When conducting a review of a Classification Office decision, the Board carries out its own examination of the publication and applies the classification criteria to assign a classification. This process can result in the Board assigning a higher, lower, or same classification as the Classification Office.

The book’s plot:

The novel is centred on Te Arepa Santos, a boy from a fictional village on the East Coast of the North Island in New Zealand/Aotearoa. He wins a scholarship to a boys’ boarding school in Auckland, and the transition is difficult. He forges friendships, finds enemies, and discovers that his Maori identity is discounted and a disadvantage. He endures the bullying that comes from this, as well as that meted out to new boys, and sees what happens when that bullying goes too far. There are confusing encounters with sex and a growing understanding of intimacy, the use of drugs, peer pressure, deep racism, grief and death.

Decision summary

The Film and Literature Board of Review noted in its decision that the book contains themes of bullying, underage casual and unsafe sex, drug taking and other matters that people may find offensive and upsetting. The Board considered that the book is likely to educate and inform young adults about the potentially negative consequences that can follow from involvement in casual sex, underage drinking, drug taking, crime, violence and bullying. The Board also considered that the book serves a useful social purpose in raising these issues for thought and debate and creating a context which may help young adults think more deeply about the immediate and long term consequences of choices they may be called upon to make.

However, there are scenes in the book that are powerful and disturbing, and in the opinion of the Board run a real risk of shocking and disturbing young readers. Whilst those aged 14 and above are likely to have a level of maturity that enables them to deal with this, those below the age of 14 may not.

The Film and Literature Board of Review classified the book as objectionable except if the publication is restricted to persons who have attained the age of 14 years. The Board also requires that any further publications of the book carry the same descriptive note as the present publication, reading “parental advisory explicit content”.

What does this decision mean?

The Board of Review decision replaces the one by the Classification Office. It is illegal for anyone, including parents and guardians, to supply Into the River to anyone under the age of 14.

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Filed under New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Prize winners, Ted Dawe

Bugs – Whiti Hereaka

Bugs – Whiti Hereaka
Young Adult, NZ fiction. Five stars.
9781775501336

I think Bugs may well be one of the most believable, angry, perverse, defensive and clever adolescent characters I have read, in quite some time. She’d be bloody hard to have around, but you’d have to admire how staunch she is, not that she’d care. And don’t bother trying to pull the wool over her eyes. She’s already decided what she thinks of you, and most likely you’re not going to get a Christmas card any time soon.
Bugs, and her mate Jez, live in picture perfect Taupō. But, as Bugs points out, it’s not really perfect:

‘I’m walking home from work. Mum likes to make out like I’ve earned her trust back, but I reckon it’s because she’s working late and Uncle can’t be arsed. So I get to walk home unsupervised – big whoop – like I’m some seven-year-old. But it’s the only chunk of freedom I’ve been allowed these holidays, so I’ll take it. And it’s kind of nice to wander home; it’s warm in the afternoon but not too hot yet. It’s that funny time in spring when the world seems confused: daffodils and snap frosts, lambs born too early dying in the cold. That time when you can sit at the lakefront in just a t-shirt and look at the mountains still frozen with snow and think it’s like a postcard – but then the mountains remind you that they’re real: the wind changes and their cold breath chills you.’

And a lot of this is what the book is about – the conflict of expectation and reality, rich and poor, poor and poorer, youth and age, surface and depth, good and bad, absolute and relative, what-I-see and what-you-see. The setting of volcanically active Taupō, with its volcanoes angry below a cracked surface of boiling mud pools and geysers, is a brilliant metaphor for adolescence and adds to the feeling that something is going to blow at any time. Lake Taupō was formed by a volcanic explosion, and Ruapēhu is still actively rumbling.

Bugs, like any teenager, is a bundle of conflicts. She’s clever enough to question the adults around her, and to examine the school system, actually every system, and find it very much wanting. But she’s also quick to judge, and decide what others believe and think. That adolescent ‘don’t judge me, but I’ll judge you.’ She’s angry. A lot. But she’s also vulnerable. Jez is her best mate and has been for ever, and now Stone Cold, the new rich chick in town, is trying to get in on the act. Bugs trusts no-one, but she especially doesn’t trust Stone Cold, who seems to have everything and value nothing.

Bugs resents the way the school tries to ‘motivate’ Māori youth:

I was barely older than that kid, that time the teachers rounded up all us kids – actually rounded us up – no shit, it was like the teachers were header dogs…Anyway, there’s all us kids – OK Māori kids – rounded up for a seminar on Māori ‘achievement’. What it really was – a bunch of loser seniors saying how hard they’d worked to pass. Just pass. And then they hit us over the head with statistics about how most of us would fail; most of us would amount to sweet F.A. And it was supposed to be motivating.

Bugs is determined to do things her way. But that doesn’t mean she always manages to. She gets sucked into the vortex of bad decision making, lots of times. For the right reasons and the wrong reasons. And she’ll try to prove to you why she’s right, even when she knows she’s skating on thin ice. And don’t try to predict the outcome, because she’ll write her own script, thanks very much.

Congratulations, too, to Huia Publishing, who have made this book a pleasure to hold and read in hard copy. The spine feels strong and flexible, the pages are a good quality paper, and space is given between chapters to reflect – not that you want to pause, because the plot is compelling and drives you on. I think that the white and black of the cover, with its shot of red are superb. But I especially like the back, with the voice of Bugs already defined and strong:

‘They call me Bugs. As in Bunny.
Yeah,
I know.’

Without wanting to labour it, that all of the words except ‘I know’ are written in red (on white) with I know written in black, we already have a flavour of the character to come – who are ‘they’? The emphasis on I know – at once linking the reader (we know it’s dumb) and separating the reader (she doesnt know what I think) – ‘knowing’ is such a tenuous concept in this book.

There is so much to say about this book, but you’d be better off reading it. Be prepared to be challenged and to be richer for the experience.

I don’t think that my Year 11 son’s English teacher will use this as a text – although she should, but its language and blatant sex talk may challenge their boundaries. No actual sex, though, for those who are worried.

This is a vastly superior coming of age novel to any I have read in a long time. It is well deserving of a short listing for this year’s NZ Post Children’s Book Awards…I just wish they would properly sort their categories – because I would recommend (not censor – an important discrimination) this book for 14yrs+. 

I got my copy through Fishpond

Read other reviews of this book:

 

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Filed under Book Review, coming of age, Five stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, YA 14+

NZ Rugby World – Issue 164 – Massive respect!

WIN_20140117_094535

I had an epiphany the other day. It all began when I was at the bookstore browsing and I caught sight of the lovely Richie McCaw – not in person unfortunately – but on the cover of NZ Rugby World. It reminded me that I hadn’t bought the younger son one of these in a while, and so I handed over nearly $10, thinking ‘oh well, at least he’ll read it’ and took it home.

The day passed, and, pretty much as normal, I hadn’t heard a lot from the younger son – 15 year olds prefer cave dwelling to hanging out with the mortifying fellow house mates called family. So, I went down to explain that it was time he got off the play station and got outside for a while – when I got to the whatever room it is since we’re not allowed to call it the play room anymore – braced for battle, I poked my head in the door, and saw him engrossed in the new magazine. Wouldn’t want to stop a boy reading now, would I? So I quietly snuck away to celebrate.

A while later I called the 15 yr old for lunch. No answer. Nothing unusual there, what was more unusual was that pretty soon he was trailing into the kitchen… reading…! I politely didn’t comment and we all sat down to eat. His father reminded him it was rude to read at the table, and the 15 yr old grunted and eventually put the magazine to one side. Open.

This is when the neurons started working in my brain – it can take me a while – and synapses were firing. I’d seen this behaviour before. Somewhere – but where. As lunch continued, I glanced out of the corner of my eye at the 15yr old.  Uh huh! There it was. He was discretely reading his magazine while he ate.

Lunch ended. And it was his older brother’s turn to load the dishwasher. The 15yr old headed straight to the pantry (it’s in their DNA even when they’ve just been fed) grabbed an apple and took off back to his cave.  Nothing unusual in that. Except it was all done with his head stuck in the magazine.  Occasional snorts also emanated.

Later, when more snacks were required, he emerged again. This time slightly more sociable. Still with magazine in hand. Now, though, he was in a lighter part of the reading, and laughing, and reading aloud bits to the rest of us – which I tried to understand, and see the point of, but mostly failed miserably.

Dinner time, and he emerges, looking a little more part of our world, but still holding the magazine. Closed. But there. Next to his dinner plate.  He kept glancing at it, and I could see he was thinking about what he had read, reflecting, remembering… After dinner the retreat to the cave.

I wandered down, curious. Surely he wasn’t still reading? Half hopeful I poked my head into the cave. No – the PlayStation was on. But, what was this, the boy sees me and speaks to me, pausing his game to do so.  The world is indeed a funny place today, I thought. I’m replaying the (who knows which) game, he told me. You know, the one where…(my mind goes fuzzy at this point)…I snuck out, leaving him to it.

My epiphany, when I finally got there in the middle of the night, was that I had seen his behaviour before. In me! When I am reading my favourite, or just about any good, books. I am so lost in their world, that everything else is sideline. I reluctantly put it aside for meals, I read parts aloud to the family (and they nod in the same half interested, mostly bemused way I had earlier in the day). I carry it round the house with me. I glance at the cover and rethink.  In my mind I rewrite parts of it.

I am subscribing to NZ Rugby World, and I can’t think why I haven’t before now. I know that it is reading he loves. I understand that it is worthwhile reading. It’s just that, in my heart, I guess I still wanted his reading to be more like my reading. Until this day, when I saw that it was his reading. And not bad reading either. There is some quality writing and reporting in this mag! Funny, intelligent, carefully composed, reflective and engaging writing. I think, once he’s read them, they might make their way into my classroom – except his favourites, which are stacked up on his bedside table…. hmmm – where have I seen that before?

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Filed under Boys' Reading, humour, Rugby, Uncategorized

Keeper – Mal Peet (2004)

Keeper Keeper – Mal Peet (2004)

Awards: Branford Boase (2004); German Youth Literature Award (2007).

 

I bought this book because I had recently heard Mal Peet and his wife, Elspeth Graham, interviewed on Saturday Mornings with Kim Hill, NZ National Radio: http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player/2558762

I remembered having read Tamar, his Carnegie Award winning book, and loving it.  I also have a young man in one of my English classes who is football/soccer mad.  He has finished reading the ‘Goal!’ series and I was looking for something that might capture his imagination (and have more to follow).  And the reality is that a lot of books that are specifically written for kids who love sports but don’t love reading, are of a pretty poor quality – which is frustrating.  I believe that to get children to love reading, they need to be exposed to quality writing.  Just like you can’t expect to get a beautiful sound out of a poor quality instrument, why would someone who only gets to read pedestrian writing learn to love reading!

This book certainly didn’t start out the way I had expected.  Faustino is a sports journalist interviewing El Gato, goalkeeper of the winning World Cup team.  This is to be a front page story, and Faustino knows exactly how he wants it to go.  He wants the story of El Gato’s journey from poverty to fame and fortune.  The only trouble is, El Gato doesn’t seem to want to play the game Faustino’s way.  He starts telling the story of how he came to be the one of a kind goal keeper, with seemingly superhuman powers, that he is, and it’s a story that’s hard to swallow.  It seems that this mythical goal keeper might not quite have a secure grip on reality.

I shared Faustino’s concern, initially.  I was completely taken by surprise.  I was sceptical.  I was anxious.  Faustino was worried about the sanity of his football hero.  I was worried about the credibility of this author.  Like Faustino, I decided to play along with the story – to hear El Gato out.  Certainly I was enjoying the language.  Mal Peet writes evocatively – he draws you right into a story:

Standing there, with its back to the trees, was a goal. A soccer goal. Two uprights and a crossbar. With a net. A net fixed up like the old-fashioned ones, pulled back and tied to two poles behind the goal. My brain stood still in my head. (Don’t you just love that image?  My brain stood still in my head…Wow!)  I could hear the thumping of my blood. I must have looked like an idiot, my eyes mad and staring, my mouth hanging open. Eventually I found the nerve to take a few steps toward this goal, this quite impossible goal. The woodwork was a silvery grey, and the grain of the wood was open and rough. Weathered, like the timber of old boats left for years on the beach. It shone slightly. The net had the same colour, like cobwebs, and thin green plant tendrils grew up the two poles that supported it.

It seemed to take an age, my whole life, to walk into that goalmouth. When I got there, I put out my hands and held the net. It was sound and strong, despite its great age. I was completely baffled and stood there, my fingers in the mesh of the net and my back to the clearing, trying, and failing, to make sense of all this.

Peet says that he has long since got tired of categorising by age or genre.  And this is apparent in ‘Keeper’.  There is enough about football in this book for any avid football fan to love.  But I don’t love football – at all.  And I really loved this book.  I highly recommend it.  Somehow, the weirdness works and becomes fantastically believable…Read Jan Mark’s review at the following link:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/nov/15/featuresreviews.guardianreview3

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Filed under Children 12+, Five stars, Prize winners, Read Aloud, Young Adult

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ready Player One

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

I have to admit that I would not have picked up this YA novel to read, optionally.  It was set as homework for me by one of my students, at school.  While I’m not sure I think it was, ‘completely fricking awesome,’ (Patrick Rothfuss) and I admit that I don’t know if it is ‘pure geek heaven,’  (Chris Farnsworth) or not, and I am usually suspicious of any novel that uses three pages to quote recommendations for the book in its beginning (less is more, in my opinion) I found this a very readable, engaging 4/5 star novel.

If you’re not drawn in by the futuristic real and virtual world (the teenager), then you are likely to be hooked in by the 80’s references (the parent).  Basically, the novel is set in 2044.  Things in the real world are pretty bad, what with there being no oil, weird climactic conditions, over population and terrible extremes of poverty and wealth.  Most people choose to spend most of their time in a virtual world called OASIS, developed by James Halliday.  When Halliday, who becomes super wealthy, dies, he has no heirs.  The book begins…

‘Everyone my age remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the contest.  I was sitting in my hideout watching cartoons when the news bulletin broke in on my video feed, announcing that James Halliday had died during the night.’

Of course, with no heirs, who will inherit the huge dynasty, virtual and real, that he has built?  Inevitably, he sets a challenge, a quest, ensuring the winner will be someone truly worthy of his fortune, and suitably qualified to manage his world.  The quest is presented through a video message, ‘actually a meticulously* constructed short film titled Anorak’s Invitation’ (Anorak being Halliday’s Avatar).  As an aside, I can’t help but think that Anorak is a slightly unfortunate name for a socially reclusive computer geek – worrying, even.  But this classic quest is worthy of a Greek Legend.

“before I died,” Anorak says, speaking in a much deeper voice, ‘I created my own Easter egg, and hid it somewhere inside my most popular videogame – the OASIS.  The first person to find my Easter egg will inherit my entire fortune.’

Another dramatic pause.

‘The Egg is well hidden.  I didn’t just leave it lying under a rock somewhere.  I suppose you could say it’s locked inside a safe that is buried in a secret room that lies hidden at the centre of a maze located somewhere” he reaches up to tap his right temple – ‘up here.’

‘But don’t worry.  I’ve left a few clues lying around to get everybody started. And here’s the first one.’  Anorak makes a grand gesture with his right hand, and three keys appear, spinning slowly in the air in front of him. They appear to be made of copper, jade, and clear crystal.  As the keys continue to spin, Anorak recites a piece of verse, and as he speaks each line, it appears briefly in flaming subtitles across the bottom of the screen:

Three hidden keys open three secret gates

Wherein the errant will be tested for worthy traits

And those with the skill to survive these straits

Will reach the end where the prize awaits.

Five years go by, and none are able to crack the bad poetry – I mean – super clever code!  Enter Wade Watts, poor orphan neglected by his evil stepmother – I mean – drug addled, mean-as aunt, having to make his own way in the world.  Wade Watts navigates the straits with the kind of light bulb moments his name suggests.  Talk about the anti-hero.  Wade Watts is an overweight, super geeky, social recluse who deals with his life by withdrawing almost permanently into the virtual world Halliday created, becoming a ‘gunter’ (geeky Easter egg hunter).  With all the time he has on his hands, Wade becomes an expert on the 1980’s and Halliday.

Miraculously (Yes – I do have a slightly raised eyebrow here):

‘on the evening of February 11, 2045, an avatar’s name appeared at the top of the Scoreboard, for the whole world to see.  After five long years, the Copper key had finally been found, by an eighteen-year-old kid living in a trailer park on the outskirts of Oklahoma City.

That kid was me.

Dozens of books, cartoons, movies, and miniseries have attempted to tell the story of everything that happened next, but every single one of them got it wrong.  So I want to set the record straight, once and for all.’

I’m no technology geek.  I have two teenage sons for that.  But, I was completely engrossed in most of this story.  The plot is complex.  I love a mystery – and the clues (if not the verse) got better.  It was possible to work things out – especially if you lived through the 1980’s.  I remember when the Commodore 64 was flash.  We had a machine we plugged into the TV and I remember coding in Basic for hours to watch dots move across the screen, using IF/THEN to make things a little more exciting.  So, this book was fun to read from that perspective.

But   it also has all of the necessary elements for any great quest – the under dog/pauper seeking a fortune and perchance a princess, the arch nemesis and his army (in the form of Sorrento and the Sixers), success, defeat, Monty Python, The Tempest, Castles, Sir Lancelot and more.  It’s almost as though the author wrote down everything he knew, and somehow incorporated it into the novel.  By the way – Ernest Cline – the name is a worthy pseudonym, and I suspect he is an avatar…really…an earnest geek, a cline… (a continuum with an infinite number of   gradations from one extreme to the other)…Visit his very cool website here:   http://www.ernestcline.com/blog/about/

There were moments when the plot had too many easy answers.  There were moments when it was just a bit too geeky for me.  There were moments when I was confused by the sheer amount of information I was given.  However, this really is a good book.  A serious 4/5 stars for me.  I recommend it.  Even if there are parts you read once over lightly – a bit like a technical manual, there are other moments you will connect with and take delight in.  You might even go and watch an 80’s film or two, and reminisce.

Age group: 13+ (complex)

* meticulous   may be a slightly over used adjective, in spirit if not in actual word, in this novel.

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Filed under Four stars, speculative fiction, Uncategorized, YA 14+

Into the River – Ted Dawe – R14

Into the RiverM – Readers 15+, Classified R14

Winner Young Adult Category, and Overall Winner, NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, 2013

It is illegal for this book to be sold to children under 14 years of age.

This book is the prequel to Ted Dawe’s Thunder Road (2003), which won both the Young Adult and Best First Book awards in the 2004 NZ Children’s Book Awards.  Having read ‘Into the River’, I am very keen to read ‘Thunder Road’.  One of the things about a prequel is that it is always leading to a thoroughly told beginning, and so there is an inevitability to the story. Even though I haven’t read Thunder Road, I could really feel the inexorable drive of this story.  I think this is a real strength of the book.

Preview of Into the River

The story beings with young Te Arepa and his best friend Wiremu eeling.  This is beautifully written, with the friendship between Wiremu and Te Arepa having real legs.  The dialogue and interaction have a truth to them that draws the reader ‘Into the River’ with them, as they catch a monster eel:

He’s a monster!’

‘He’s the taniwha of the river!’

The eel made his leisurely way downstream, the hook projecting from the side of his mouth.  The boys trotted along, keeping pace.  After fifty metres, the river changed course and crossed a shallow ridge of river boulders.

‘We can get him when he crosses the rocks,’ yelled Wiremu.

As if it heard, the eel immediately made for the bank.  It nuzzled its way into the reeds immediately above the rapids.

Now’s our chance,’ said Te Arepa.  ‘We might be able to drag him over to the rocks.’

They let the line go slack and ran to where it was shallow enough to cross.  Once they were halfway across, they began to pull together.  At first it seemed pointless.  Nothing would shift this monster.  But then his head appeared and he made a dash straight past them over the rushing rocks.’

However, as the back of the book says:

‘Some rivers should not be swum in.  Some rivers hold secrets that can never be told.

When Te Arepa Santos is dragged into the river by a giant eel, something happens that will change the course of his whole life.  The boy who struggles to the bank is not the same one who plunged in, moments earlier.  He has brushed against the spirit world, and there is a price to be paid; an utu to be exacted.’

As you may have noticed, Te Arepa’s last name is Spanish.  The telling of the story of Diego, the ancestor who gave Te Arepa his last name, is a fantastically wrought tale told over three nights to Te Arepa and his younger sister Rawinia, by their grandfather, Ra.  All of this tale weaving lulls you into a false sense of security.  You feel, as a reader that, when Te Arepa is offered a place at an elite Auckland Boarding School for boys, he has the strength to cope and to hold on to who he is.

But it doesn’t quite work like that.

As Paikea drives him to Auckland in her courier van, Te Arepa becomes transfixed with her driving – the way that she seems at one with the vehicle.  He has his first lesson (despite being 13 years old).  At school, he is given a new name – Devon – and makes he friends with the worldly and world weary Steph, athlete and petrol-head Mitch, and farm boy Wingnut.  Progressively, Devon separates himself from everything that identifies him as Maori, because of the consistent and persistent bullying from the older boys and even the masters.  His first year at school reveals some cracks, but his second year is relentless.

While there may seem to be some similarities between ‘Snakes and Ladders’ (another NZ Post Children’s Book Awards nominee) and ‘Into the River’ (small town boy is moved to elite Auckland boarding school, where he needs to learn to deal with the super rich and the bullies, as well as the eccentricities of elite boarding school life) in reality, there are few.  This tale is an absorbing, relentless, addictive read.  The characters are well drawn and three dimensional  – although not always likeable.  There is an inevitability to the story that feels real, even though you don’t want it to be that way.

This book is definitely 14+ in my view, as sex, drugs, alcohol etc feature relatively prominently – but not gratuitously (at least most of the time…it does occasionally slip into 14yr old fantasyland…IMO)  Recommended.  4/5 stars.

Read more about Ted Dawe here:

Ted Dawe

Read another review of Into the River here:

Bobs Books Blog

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Filed under Four stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Ted Dawe, YA 14+

Snakes and Ladders – Mary-Anne Scott

Snakes and ladders

I have just finished ‘Snakes and Ladders’ by Mary-Anne Scott, nominated for the YA section of the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards, 2013.  Scholastic have put together a set of teacher notes for the book, which may be valuable for those intending to incorporate it into a Secondary School English class. I hesitate to post a less than enthusiastic review, especially of new New Zealand books, however, in my opinion, this book was just OK – 2 – 2.5/5 stars.

Finn Fletcher lives in small town, Waimea.  He has a somewhat strained relationship with Anne, his mother, who seems to spend a lot of time anxiously trying to make things good for Finn.  Valerie, his grandmother, and Anne want Finn to move to an elite boarding school in Auckland, ‘This is a great opportunity to broaden your horizons’He intended broadening his horizons that very evening, if things went to plan.’

His father, druggie Duggie, lives in a filthy shack, plays drums in a band, and grows marijuana.  Finn drops in on his Dad occasionally,  ‘Something acid was burning his throat and the smell of unwashed bedding in this pigsty wasn’t helping.  It was years since Finn had been in his father’s bedroom and the loneliness and poverty of his life seemed to be seeping out of the walls.’ 

His grandfather, Poppa has an orchard and Finn does the bookwork once a week for him.  ‘Well done, Finn.’ His grandfather tapped the side of the computer screen. ‘It’s remarkable how quick you are on this thing.’  A reluctant surge of love ran through Finn and he tossed his grandfather a rare, heart-stopping grin.’

Poppa’s housekeeper, Mrs P, adores Finn, ‘She was always patting and mauling Finn and this morning her dimpled flesh was enough to trigger an overreaction. He pulled away.  And, when she tries to pop some pikelets into the glove box of the car as he leaves, ‘he felt like jamming her fingers in the compartment door.’

Finn has a girlfriend, Alison, who seems (to be quite honest) far too good for him and a group of friends she describes as ‘drop-kicks’, which might be a bit harsh – but only a bit…

So, life is pretty much on a normal track at the beginning of the novel.  He’s playing sevens, which he loves, he’s coasting at school, he’s got things working pretty well for him, at a pretty minimal effort.  Every adult is treated with the great teenage contempt, girls are for seeing how far you can get, and Saturday nights are for parties and drinking.  Then, one morning, after an especially drunken night the night before, Finn discovers that his father is in serious trouble.  He is accused of having hit and killed a girl.  In the face of the great small town rumour mill, Finn decides to go along with his Grandmother’s idea of sending him away to an elite Auckland boarding school.

Life at boarding school, with the very rich, creates a whole new set of challenges for Finn, including learning how to deal with bullying and meeting a whole new kind of girl.  He also makes two good friends in Hobbsie and Andy – although he consistently treats them pretty badly.  It’s hard to see what they get from the friendship. Everything leads up to the ever important Ball, and the after-party.  This leads to a tragic event that forces Finn to confront his past, and to take some steps towards putting things right.

Ultimately, this novel was just too clichéd in its character,  and plot.  I found that I had lost all belief, compassion or connection with Finn, the main character, after page 2 of chapter 2.  Yes, teenagers can be self-centered and make stupid decisions, but this book never really rose above that for me.  In addition, it seemed the adults in this situation did very little to help Finn to realise the enormity of the impact of his behaviours.  They were all very forgiving, and accepting, recognising what was most important was to move on.  These were all very easy solutions.  I would be reluctant to leave teenagers with this view of the impact of their decision-making.

While I did read to the end, it was disappointing. I kept hoping for something more to sustain the plot. Unfortunately the writing presented very few treasures. Hints were clunky, and Hobbsie and Andy just did not have the credibility to sustain the story.  The heartbreak in the ending for me was the over easy solution to some unbelievably serious issues.

Sadly, this is not one I will be recommending, but I will try it out on one or two others to see what they think.

Others views can be read here:

Bobs Blog Spot

Hastings District Library

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Filed under New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Uncategorized, YA 14+