NZ fiction

A Trio of Sophies by Eileen Merriman

SophieI think Eileen Merriman is one of the cream of the crop of writers for young people right now. She writes stories that are immediately engaging, that are the perfect pitch for the audience of young adult readers. Her books have depth and breadth and tackle issues which are current and curly. I think this book is one of her best.

There have always been three Sophies, each different but all good friends. They are in the same class, they have known each other since they were little and their lives are intricately linked. Now in their final year at school, one of the Sophies has gone missing. Despite the efforts of the police, she cannot be found anywhere. This leaves two Sophies and the novel is told by one of them. The swot, the quiet one, the one determined to rise out of her humble life. The story is told in journal form beginning on the 64th day that Sophie has been missing and counting backwards to the day of her disappearance. It is an interesting structure and it works really well. You feel the tension rise, leading up to the day it all went horribly wrong.

Tied up to the disappearance of Sophie A is the story of Sophie M and the English Teacher. A guy who should have known better, a man who shouldn’t be in a room alone with teenage girls. I really liked the way that this aspect of the story was written, the way James Bacon, the English Teacher, draws Sophie in and entangles her in a web of deceit.

This is great writing for teenagers, gritty and real, using language which feels right. A brilliant book for all schools to have in their library collection.

Thanks so much to Penguin NZ for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Please can we have heaps more NZ books like this.

The Mapmakers’ Race by Eirlys Hunter

Endearing and full of life, this is an old fashioned rollicking adventure of the sort that I read when I was a kid. The story of a family of explorers and mapmakers who are competing in a race with an an enormous reward at the end of it. The Santander family are renowned for their skills but enroute to the race Papa has gone missing and Mother has been left at the station. The children, their parrot and an enterprising young man they persuade to join them are on the hunt for the best route for the railway to run to the town of New Coalhaven on the coast. It is an arduous route with rivers to cross, mountain ranges to trek over. There are bees and bears and drama galore. 

What a glorious cover this is!

Their adventure is full of danger and disasters and yet the children persist. When their spirits are low and they are in danger of starvation or hypothermia they persist. What a team they are! And ultimately this is how they survive, by pulling together, harnessing the best of each of their skills and by being kind and loving to each other. 

This book is old fashioned and wholesome, the production of the book is lovely, the pages feel great in your hands. It’s a lovely story made more gorgeous by the wonderful illustrations. I found myself going forward and back to the maps as I was reading it. This book would be a lovely gift for a child, and I will be recommending it widely. I was intrigued by the setting, I was surprised that this author wrote a book set in America, I had expected this book to have a New Zealand flavour, as it is it would work for a child anywhere in the world. I would expect that people who love Katherine Rundell’s books would enjoy this one. 

Call Me Evie by J.P. Pomare

I’m so pleased this lived up to the hype. I was hooked from the first page, gripping stuff! You are immediately caught up in Evie/Kate’s story. It is told in sections, what is happening now and in flashbacks to her life in Melbourne and the story leading up to her current situation. Evie is being looked after by her uncle Jim, she has only limited recollections of what happened. She has been removed from Melbourne to a small town in the Hawkes Bay of New Zealand, she isn’t sure how she got there. Jim is controlling everything, what she eats, when she can leave the house, he keeps her drugged and she is in hiding. Gradually, through the fog of the drugs she begins to put things together, the events of a night where a young man died, where she was drunk behind the wheel of a car and where Jim turned up holding something. 

The mystery of what happened is at the core of this book. It is cleverly and slowly revealed to the reader as the book goes along. I honestly didn’t pick the twist. 

This is contemporary, it is interesting and the action just hums along. I was totally hooked on this, read it in two days and am still thinking about it now. Highly recommended if you like a contemporary thriller.

Invisibly Breathing by Eileen Merriman

I’ve struggled with this book. I have been heavily invested in this authors work and have read her previous two novels with delight and joy. She has nailed teenage voice and the trials and tribulations of teenage life, its conflicts and challenges. She does that again in this one. Yet still I struggled with it, it has taken me an age to read. The characters of Felix and Bailey were great and I loved their romance and the challenges they faced to be together. I thought the anger and abuse were very well written, the struggle of Bailey’s family to cope was very moving. And yet I struggled.

There was a lot going on, a great local setting, a bunch of issues to drive the story. It was fabulous to read a local book for teens with characters with sexuality stuff going on, the gradual awakening of Felix to his sexuality was great. And yet I struggled.

It felt a little unfinished, that it could have been just slightly more tightly plotted. I think it possibly tried to cover too many issues and while that is admirable and Eileen Merriman can be trusted to handle issues sensitively and in ways that appeal to the teenage audience, this one slightly misses the mark. 

Having said all this I will be pushing it at my students, some have already read it and enjoyed it, but for me I’ll push the other two books just a tiny bit harder.