Falling into Rarohenga, by Steph Matuku. Young Adults.
Tui and Kae are twins, and contrary to all the stories we hear about the close bonds of twins, that happy state doesn’t apply in this case: Tui is a school prefect at the small-town high school they attend; she’s a swot and gets consistently high marks in everything, the object of which is to get away from this little nothing place, get to the big city and eventually cover herself with academic glory. Kae is just the opposite – who cares about good results, as long as he has his mates – and his ukulele, the source of his biggest pleasure, for if there’s one thing Kae worships, it’s music, and composing his own songs: music is the most important thing in his life, certainly not his snobby sister, who is Nigel No-Friends because she’s too smart.
Until they arrive home from school (fighting all the way) one day, to discover that their beloved Mum, their mainstay through the divorce of their jailed fraudster Dad and the death from cancer of their darling aunt Huia, has disappeared without a trace – but what follows next is so unbelievable it can’t be happening: what they at first thought was one of the frequent earthquakes that plague Aotearoa New Zealand turns out to be a summons from Aunty Huia in Rarohenga, the Maori Underworld: they have to fall through the portal to look for their mother, who has been abducted by their father, of all people! Only the intervention of the twins will save her from dying before her time and staying in Rarohenga. Neither of their parents are meant to be there, but their father learnt some pretty dreadful magic from one of his cellmates; now, he has his prize, their mother, and who cares about the twins? They were only distractions to divert their mother’s attention from him.
There begins a series of hair-raising adventures for the twins, including meeting Hinekoruru, Goddess of Shadows; a fearsome taniwha with paua-shell eyes and many sad memories; and an unbelievably handsome fairy called a túrehu. They all provide assistance for the twins’ quest, but all demand payment – in the túrehu’s case, it’s Tui’s hand in marriage. To which she agrees, fervently hoping that she will be able to get back to the real world before she has to honour her promise – which, perhaps, would not be that bad: he’s pretty damned hot!
Once again, the author of ‘Flight of the Fantail’ delivers the goods: an exciting, topical meld of today’s New Zealand with Maoritanga and its ancient myths and legends - and she does it so well. Twins Tui and Kae are heroes for the ages! SIX STARS.