The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

The Whale Rider

Kahutia Te Rangi didn’t wish to be a girl, but lo behold she was born one. She was named after the famous whale rider, who brought the Maori people to the East Coast of New Zealand. But Kahu longs for the love of the one person who refuses together: her grandfather. The Whale Rider is an exquisite tale of how one girl stands against the traditions of her tribe to reconnect them with their spiritual past.

The Whale Rider was the first book focused around the Maori culture and by a Maori author. I travelled to New Zealand in December 2013-January 2014 and was captivated by the culture, so of course I was eager to learn more and therefore read a book which had the centre point was tradition.

The first thing I realised I had to do, however, was take a note of the time period. I don’t know why, but I kept assuming that this book was set within the present day – ie, with high-tech computers and mobile phones etc. But no, it was actually written in 1986! Just something to look out for – especially as it explores the topic of racism in brutal detail (based in Papua New Guinea).

Okay and now onto the actual novel. The ‘main’ character in this, Kahu (it’s not told from her POV, but more on him later), didn’t actually seem to be in it much, in detail at least. Her actual story was scattered throughout. Now, this works in both ways: in one, it meant that her story was told in an interesting way with detail about the MC’s life, but Kahu’s story was still told in enough detail to understand that it was about her. However, it also meant that the focus was taken off her, despite everything that happened being related to her in some way. Anyway, I liked her nevertheless.

Onto the MC – although the story was about him, I felt that we learnt more about the characters around him that him himself (I should stop using the pronoun ‘him’. His name is actually Rawiri).This is the type of book I have wanted to find for a long time: one in which the main character isn’t actually the main character. If you get my drift. I really liked it, actually.

To the writing style now: which I loved. It was humourous (such as Nanny Flowers and Koro – a comedy duo if I have ever read about one!). There were just quite a few lines which genuinely made me laugh out loud (I got a few odd looks from busing companions). It’s a genuinely funny book. The style was also catchy, and the short chapters (well, some were) made it quite quick to read (especially as it is novella length). However, the author incorporates Maori language into the text, which, while being different and interesting, can be a bother if you’re constantly flicking back to the glossary (not to mention the fact that some words aren’t in there). Still, I have learnt some of the language, which is actually rather beautiful.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Whale Rider – it’s an interesting read (although the film adaption looks TERRIBLE!) and I would recommend it for children and adolescents. It’s not a jump-in-your-face kind of read, more laid back, but perfectly for a chapter or two before you turn the light out at night.

TITLE: The Whale Rider
AUTHOR: Witi Ihimaera
PUBLISHER: Reed Publishing
YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1987 (this edition 2007)
PRICE: £6.99
ISBN: 978-0-7900-0868-4
PERSONAL SOURCE: Borrowed from my mum’s shelves

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

If I told you that Ava Lavender was a family history novel, you would probably turn away in disgust and look for a more exciting book, filled with action and adventure. What if I told you it was told in such an entertaining, gripping way that you wouldn’t be able to put it down? It includes the supernatural? People die in gruesome manners? Now do I have your attention?

To me, this book was the brain child of Walton and was an amazing idea: it’s inventive, imaginative and completely different to anything else I have ever read with hypnotic, lyrical prose and a gnawing in my stomach to keep turning the page. The characters were each to their own as it were; vivid, unique and completely 3D. Essentially, it contains the stories of Ava, her mother and her grandmother (there’s even a handy family tree in the front of it) and branches of their history (such as Ava’s brother or her grandmother’s loves). The stories are fascinating, new, and utterly gripping.

I seem to be using the same vocabulary over and over again. Maybe that tells you something.

The main story…well, as aforementioned, there wasn’t one: there was three. But you could so clearly tell they interlinked that it seemed as if there was only one overall. Other stories branched off, and although they didn’t always add to the plot, they always added to the story and enhanced it for the reader.

The awesome main character, Ava, was just cool in my book. She has wings, she is kept locked up but she is very intelligent. I thought she was the perfect persona for the novel and really enjoyed reading in her voice. However, this MC did raise a few unanswered questions, the biggest being: how on earth did she know all of this about her mum, grandmum and other characters? I think the author’s response would be something like, “Well, she’s magical. She just does,” but I would like to know.

Something else I liked about this novel was the fact that it was spiritual but not religious. It was a personal enjoyment to not be lectured about God (I don’t mind if people believe in Him, but I don’t want to be lectured into why I should/should not as I have yet to discover for myself) and to have the spiritual side described and explored in a new way. Certainly, even the descriptions of death were tragically astounding.

And now we get onto my completely personal notes. In my review notes, right after I had finished the book, I wrote, ‘AMAZINGLY HAPPY ENDING WHOOP WHOOP YIPPEE DI DOO DAH FANTASTICAL LOVE [THE] TWIST’. I think that just about sums up Ava Lavender for you: a fantastically beautiful tale of love and loss and all of the things in between as Ava discovers how to understand the world in a world that doesn’t understand her.

Basically, just read it.

TITLE: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
AUTHOR: Leslye Walton
PUBLISHER: Candlewick Press (Walker Books)
PRICE: £7.99
ISBN: 978-1-4063-5773-8
PERSONAL SOURCE: Borrowed from the library