Sunday, 30 March 2008

Josefa and the Vu, by Tulia Thompson

Josefa and the Vu Tulia Thompson, Huia, 179 pages, paperback, NZ$20
ISBN 978-1-869693-00-8
(Reading age: 10-14)

Josefa Naibula, an Onehunga schoolboy, is astounded when he is confronted by a huge Fijian warrior wielding a club. “I am your Vu. I am your ancestor spirit. I am here to protect you.” The youngest of his family, teased by his brothers and bullied at school, Josefa needs all the supernatural help he can get. When the bully, Jack Bucksworth, steals a precious family relic, a whaletooth tabua, Josefa finds out why he has been chosen by the spirit of his ancestors. Other supernatural creatures (including some louche Scottish brownies) become involved and Josefa is soon facing powerful enemies. The dramatic and exciting confrontation includes a bushfire in the Waitakeres, where Josefa and his friend Ming have to risk their lives.

As a first novel, Josefa and the Vu has minor flaws. The idea that epidemics are caused by evil spirits is simply silly. The unctuous principal, Mrs Bulls, and the odious Bucksworth family who make life so difficult for the Naibula family are caricatures as stereotyped as their surnames. Nevertheless, Tulia Thompson has created memorable characters and fast-moving action.

She also provides her young readers with a painless introduction into the family life of Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand. The warm family ties and the mutual support of relatives are well portrayed. This is also the first New Zealand novel to feature Fijians as the principal characters. A sequel seems likely.

This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch NZ, on 12th January 2008.

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