Friday, 25 October 2019

Auē, by Becky Manawatu.

            Auē is Maori for sorrow or woe, and it concerns the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ in this superb novel – a description that doesn’t apply to material things, but to the most important need of all:  the need to love and belong together, a need that dominates everyone’s life, and the vengeance wreaked by those who lack it.  Or deserve it.
            Each chapter lets a different character tell the story, which starts with the fatal accident suffered by seventeen-year-old Taukiri’s foster parents.  Completely unmanned by the tragedy, he delivers his eight-year-old brother to his Aunty Kat and his Uncle Stu;  they have a farm in Kaikoura;  it should be a neat place for Arama to live – you know, cows, sheep etc.  He’ll be right in time, Taukiri tells himself, while he goes to Wellington to search for his Hoe-Bag birth mother.  Yeah, right.  As if!  Nope – Tauk’s going to get a job, find a place to live and eventually the great gaping hole in his soul will close over and he will be healed.
            In a perfect world.
            Real life doesn’t turn out so conveniently:  Tauk ends up busking (he’s a great guitarist, a natural, like his dad) and it’s not long before he chums up with Elliot, another busker who has access to all kinds of memory-deadening ‘medications’:  fortunately, Elliot has a sister who looks out for them both so he hasn’t hit rock-bottom – yet.
            Meantime, Arama isn’t happy in his new home.  Aunty Kat is not happy either, because Uncle Stu is a bully and gives her black eyes and bruises whenever he feels like it;  he even smashed Arama’s All–Blacks lunchbox just because it was there.  He’s a W.A.N.K.E.R.  (Sorry mum, for the swear.)  If it weren’t for Beth, who lives on the neighbouring farm with her Dad Tom Aiken and dog Lupo, he would be very sad indeed.  Oh Tauk, can’t you come and get me?  Where do I belong?  Who do I belong to now?
The story is also traced of Taukiri’s ‘hoebag’ birth mother Jade and his fisherman father Toko.  Jade was born into a gang and has never been able to escape – until she met Toko, who rescued her from The House where she was born and degraded;  he is her saviour – her everything:  she could never live without him.  Until the gang comes looking, and she finds that she has to.
This is a singular work, a poignant and beautiful story that should rightly become a kiwi classic.  Ka pai, Ms Manawatu!  SEVEN STARS!        

Friday, 18 October 2019

The Van Apfel Girls Are Gone, by Felicity McLean.

           Ms McLean has previously written a children’s book and ghostwritten six other works for various celebrities.  This is her first novel, and centres on the families who live in Macedon Close, a cul-de-sac in a quiet, far-flung suburb of Sydney.  Eleven-year-old Tikka Molloy and her older sister Laura are very best friends with the three Van Apfel sisters who live further up the street;  Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth are firmly controlled by their deeply religious parents, especially their father, who appears to model himself on a Biblical prophet of old – and he punishes the girls accordingly.  With his fists, and Cordelia is often a victim of his cruelty ‘because he has to drive the devil out of her’. 
            Sadly, the more he punishes Cordelia, the more she rebels – even when he kills her pet mice and rips her hair out she doesn’t see the error of her ways:  could Cordy be an irretrievably lost soul?
            Tikka and Laura, whose home-life is blessedly normal, do their best to support their friends, even though they are forced to concede that Cordy brings a lot of her father’s biblical wrath purposely upon herself, and her latest trick of flirting with the new replacement teacher is sheer madness – she’s only thirteen!
            But she is their friend, to the extent that when the Van Apfel girls announce they are going to run away, Tikka and Laura will do anything they can to help them – except that the carefully orchestrated escape goes wrong, with tragic results for one of the Van Apfel girls, and twenty years later Tikka, now in her 30’s and working in the States, sees Cordelia look-alikes wherever she goes;  she is unable to forget the events of 1992:  what happened to Cordelia and Hannah?  Ruth was found, but there has never been a trace of the other two, and Tikka and Laura have never been able to leave the tragedy behind.
            Now Laura has cancer and Tikka comes home to give her family the best of her support, but the mystery still remains, even though the Van Apfel parents are long dead:  what happened to Cordelia and Hannah?
            Ms McLean’s novel works best when narrator Tikka is eleven;  with her shrewd, humorous and knowing gaze, she skewers the everyday – and covert! – behaviour of her neighbours and schoolmates:  no-one is safe from her scrutiny, but it’s a shame that the first and last chapters are overwritten, fraught searches for Cordy:  it’s a literary device that doesn’t work here and I nearly gave up before the third chapter. Happily, Ms McLean gets into her stride and lets Tikka carry the day.  FOUR STARS.      


Friday, 11 October 2019

The Whisper Man, by Alex North.

           Twenty years before the action in this story begins, four little boys were abducted, tortured and cruelly murdered in the small English village of Featherbank by a sadistic killer who was eventually betrayed by his terrified wife.  Detective Inspector Pete Willis was the man who ran the case and made the successful arrest, but the cost to him has been enormous:  a descent into alcoholism and the break-up of his marriage, and the knowledge that there was a fifth victim, but police have never found his body.  Until that happens, the case will never be closed to Pete, and his efforts to find out information from killer Frank Carter, imprisoned for life, yield nothing but sadistic pleasure for Carter, and an urge to drink until death for Pete.
            And people’s memories are enduring of the terrible crimes:  The killer was known as The Whisper Man for his habit of whispering enticements to his intended victims;  school children even recite a rhyme amongst themselves to that effect – but no-one is prepared for the another child going missing, a six year old walking back to his mum’s place after visiting his dad:  where could he be?  All of Pete’s old nightmares resurface.  The original Whisper Man is in prison, so he can’t be blamed:  is there a copycat on the loose?  And matters are not helped by the arrival in Featherbank of recently widowed writer Tom Kennedy and his small son Jake, hoping to make a new start without their beloved wife and mother – Tom is worried about Jake’s reliance on an Imaginary Friend, a little girl to whom he talks all the time, supposedly learning the Whisper Man rhyme from her.  Jake is not settling at his new school and Tom is at a loss to know what to do for the best;  it doesn’t help to know that they have just bought the local Scary House at Jake’s dogged insistence – and they start getting visited by scary people.  Which prompts Tom to contact the police in the shape of DI Pete Willis, a meeting which changes their lives irrevocably, especially when the fifth body for which Pete has been searching for twenty years is found buried in the floor of the Scary House’s garage.
            Alex North has written a deeply disturbing, truly creepy thriller for all of us to read between our fingers – but read it we must for, despite its theme of sadistic cruelty to the most vulnerable, it’s utterly compelling and unputdownable.  FIVE STARS.  

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Air Born, by J. L. Pawley.                        Teen Fiction

           Tyler Owen is seventeen years old and he is an ace flight cadet.  Intent on following his Air Force Colonel father’s footsteps into the military at the earliest opportunity,  he is about to make his first solo sky-dive above the California landscape:  to say that he is nervous is an understatement;  he is also elated at the realisation of his dreams – but he is worried, too.  Worried about his back, which is super-painful, not to mention the recent weird swellings that are making his jumpsuit very tight!  Well, never mind – don’t sweat it, worry about the changes after the jump.
            Except that the jump becomes a nightmare:  his parachute is beyond his reach because something explodes from one side of his back, and all he can think of is that his parents will watch him fall to his death – when another explosion occurs on his opposite shoulder:  suddenly his fall is arrested and he realises the lumps he feared are actually wings, they are clumsily working, and he’s not going to die after all.
            The trouble is that his fall and miraculous recovery have been captured by phones galore, and within hours he is a YouTube sensation – not to mention a freak who is imprisoned inside a hospital, waiting to be examined.  Well, that is not going to happen:  Tyler’s life on the run begins whether he likes it or not, but it is hugely preferable to being a guinea pig in a hospital.  One positive thing that he didn’t expect, however, was that he is not the only one who has sprouted wings:  it has happened to six others, all of whom try to make contact, for they all face the same problems of freakdom, and once they are together, find that they are of unhealthy interest not only to the authorities, but to The Angelists, a Hippy Dippy group of misfits led by a by-the-Good-Book preacher man, and a very shady, well-financed group called the Evolutionary Corporation:  the Evos are intent on capturing all of the winged friends, but to what purpose?
            ‘Air Born’ is the start of a great series by Jess Pawley, a young Kiwi author who is a master story-teller;  her characters are top-notch, including Tui, a young Maori/Samoan who used all her savings to fly to California to try to track Tyler down – because she had started to sprout wings, too, and is not happy about it – but the major question is WHY.  Why is this happening to these Seventeen year-olds, and are there more out there?  Book Two coming up!  FIVE STARS.