Saturday, 29 March 2008

Gripping Trio of Tales for Teens

Shadow of the Whale Celia Davies, Reed, 111 pages, paperback, NZ$16.99
ISBN 1-86978-007-4
Sea Dreamer Elizabeth Pulford, Random House, 160 pages, paperback, NZ$19.99
ISBN 1-86941-887-8
Losing It Sandy McKay, Longacre, 218 pages, paperback, NZ$18.99
ISBN 1-877361-74-6

Davey picked up a blubber spade and climbed up onto the whale’s back. Legs apart, he balanced carefully then began cutting and slicing with strong, sure strokes.”
How would a modern teenager cope with life on a shore whaling station? When David Fraser wakes up after a traffic accident, he finds that he is now living in the 1830s. As a convalescent his workload is light: he collects firewood and water, milks the cow, and helps with washing the clothes and digging the garden. When he recovers, however, Davey has to resume his dangerous work with the other whalers.

While his body seems used to the flensing and boatwork, Davey’s brain seethes with memories of the 21st century. Even as he steers a whaleboat heading out to harpoon a whale, Davey finds himself feeling sorry for the whale. “It was a shame to kill such a magnificent animal.” Can he ever return to his own time? Or will he die in another whaling accident? Shadow of the Whale is a well-researched and readable adventure with a time-twist in its tail.

How can I live without Rana? Her funny ways. Her daring. Her madness. Even her hateful moods of late.” Sea Dreamer is a sensitive novel about fourteen year old Cassie’s struggle to cope with the gradual break-up of her lifelong friendship with Rana. As the two girls grow apart, Cassie finds herself increasingly interested in the life of an ancestor, Sarah Cassandra Addison, who may have been involved with pirates.

Gradually Cassie finds herself reflecting more on her relationships with others, and gaining an understanding of her old teacher and her Grandmother Sarah. She also develops her first hesitant interest in boys. The sea plays a strong part in Cassie’s life, living as she does in Rewa Bay (which resembles Purakanui in Otago). Cassie becomes increasingly fixated on poems about the sea, and a tumultuous storm forms a fitting climax to the novel. As Cassie narrates her story, the reader gains an insight into the powerful emotions of adolescence.

Apparently I’ve been diagnosed with both anorexia and bulimia. Lucky me! I didn’t know you could have both at the same time.” Sandy McKay has written many excellent witty novels for younger readers, so it is no surprise that, although her first novel for older teens is about a serious subject, it is also gripping and often funny. In Losing It Jo writes letters from the hospital where they are trying to treat her eating disorders.

Even murderers can choose if they want dinner or not… Not me,” complains Jo. Her main correspondent, her friend Issy, has a flair for saying (or writing) the wrong thing, even trying to encourage Jo with a quote from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and then, realising this might be a bad choice, ends: "The point is, this guy escaped in the end. (Well, someone did.) Hang on to that thought, Jo. Think positive."
Sandy McKay’s account of Jo’s ordeal is indeed positive, with interesting characters and a skilful storytelling technique. The book’s presentation is of an equally high quality, with cards, notes, newspaper clippings and photos interspersed among the letters. (There are even crumpled drafts of the letter she keeps trying to write to her estranged mother.)
Losing It is a well-crafted novel which rewards careful reading; it provides a touching picture of the importance of caring and friendship in healing the body and mind.

This review by Trevor Agnew first appeared in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand on
21st July 2007.

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