Taking Off Janice Marriott, HarperCollins, 207 pages, paperback, NZ$16.99
Janice Marriott never writes the same novel twice. Taking Off is an original story about the importance of vision. For some, vision is simply eyesight. Alana is about to find out whether she has inherited the condition that left her father, Dave, blind as a young man. Tommy has no eyesight problems but he can’t see a way out of his difficulties; his alcoholic mother has brought him to a small coastal settlement where he feels detached from everything except the birds.
After a disastrous first encounter involving a stroppy swan and lots of mud, grumpy Alana and truculent Tommy fall into an armed truce, which makes very humorous reading. Both are writing private journals so we also learn of Tommy’s obsession with wings, kites and flight and Alana’s love of the estuary (based on the area around Foxton Beach) and its birdlife. She has more trouble appreciating humans, especially the luckless Tommy and her Uncle Brad, the Cessna pilot who flies her to the hospital where she will learn the truth about her eyesight. Then disaster strikes and Alana has to face a challenge even greater than blindness.
Janice Marriott (who has been blind herself) makes Alana’s predicament utterly convincing but she has also created a witty story with a richly described natural landscape and characters who are likeable despite their scratchiness. Taking Off may be the best teen novel of the year.
This review first appeared in The Press, Christchurch NZ, on 12th January 2008.