Tag Archives: prequel

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+

My Name is Mina – David Almond


‘My Name is Mina’, published in 2010, is a prequel to ‘Skellig’, published by David Almond in 1998.  I read Skellig a very long time ago, and remember loving it, which is why I gave this book a go.
It is the story of Mina McKee – the way Mina plays with words in this book, it’s not too far a leap to hear her name in a ‘minor key’. The book is written as her journal, and it is presented with different typefaces for different experimentations and playings with words.  I wasn’t sure I liked this at first, but it actually works very well.  I like the way perspective is played with in this book.  Instead of there being more than one character’s perspective, we are told the story through Mina’s eyes, but she changes perspective at times, writing about herself in the third person.  Events are not told in a linear way, but as and when Mina feels she can tell them.
Mina is being homeschooled at the moment, because of an incident at school on SATS day. Mina is very open about her memory being slightly selective and admits to some embellishment of the incident.  I love the way that this means that we have to read it with our peripheral vision, in a sense – we cannot look directly at the scene to know what happened.  We need to look at the edges and the hints.  This lovely reveal/not reveal leaves scope for interpretation.  The incident involves her teacher, Mrs Scullery, and THE HEAD TEACHER, a piece of writing called, ‘Glibbertysnark’ and Mina’s mother being called in to school.  We are not told, but that must make Mina about 11 years old, since in the UK the SATS are tested at Year 2 and Year 6.
Mina’s father died many years ago, so that her memories of him feel, at times, like dreams…’I half-remembered the smell of his breath and the stubble on his cheek as he kissed me goodnight, the slight roughness of his skin as he stroked my cheek, his voice as he whispered me his Good Night.  And I lay with the books around me and the strange half-vague, half-intense memories* inside me, and felt very small indeed.’  The asterisk is for a footnote – I am not quite sure how I feel about these.  Sometimes they feel like they were written by an older Mina – sometimes they feel a bit contrived -but actually I think that’s OK, since this is Mina’s journal, and she is very much experimenting with language and who she is, and what everything means…and that can sound contrived at times.
Like one or two other readers of this book, I feel that I didn’t fully engage with Mina until about halfway through the book. She doesn’t make it easy for you.  While I felt her mother was presented as a loving and wise person, I really felt she was not developed at all as a character.  Again, this is appropriate – in the sense that children don’t question who their parents are, as characters, or their motivations, apart from how they affect the child.  There was one moment where we caught a glimpse of Mum’s real life, when Mina reflects on her day at Corinthian Avenue (an alternative school), where she ‘saw’ her father, and she realises it’s just possible her mother may have spent some time with Colin Pope.  ‘When I look back now, I suspect that Mum had her own secret that afternoon…I remember seeing her smile to herself as we drove across the river.  Was it Colin Pope?  Had she taken the chance to be with him that day, freed from her weird daughter?  I suspect she had.’ 
Once you do engage with Mina, she’s kind of stuck like glue…she’s very hard to get out of your head.  It is well worth taking the time…this is a great read.  In many ways I would like to give it five stars, but because it is so hard to get to the point where you commit to the book, I feel I can only give it four.        


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