I feel a little bit ashamed to admit that it took me two tries to get through this very, very good novel, and only returned to it because one of my students is having to write on it for an exam. (In my defense, the first time round I had about 45 other books on my bedside table!) This is an insightful kiwi novel about a Maori teenager who goes by the nickname Bugs. It almost spoils it to reveal that Bugs is a girl – I was surprised to realise this about 30 pages in – but it’s going to be hard to write this without giving it away! At any rate, Bugs was born to a solo mum in her teens, who has gone on to carve a good career and income for herself and Bugs. She raised Bugs with the support of her wider family, and as a result, Bugs is pretty grounded and is able to stay on the right path in life, feeling loved and supported, even when she makes bad choices. Her two best friends, on the other hand, aren’t so lucky, and the book serves as an illustration of how money really can’t buy you happiness.
I’m feeling a bit blergh about my boy book quest, partially because so many of the recommended books are dystopian fiction and it’s not my favourite genre. I did quite enjoy this one though, and for the most part its fast paced and really well thought out. The writing is beautiful and the character’s are well-drawn. It centres on a kid called Nailer, who works in the dark hollows of abandoned ships to pick out precious metals and other materials, for resale to the new version of these boats, ‘clippers’. After a “city killer” storm, a clipper washes ashore and onboard Nailer and his best friend Pima find a young woman who is barely clinging to life. They choose to save her instead of chopping off her fingers for the gold she’s wearing, and things take a scary turn from there. Nailer’s own father is a drug addict and alcoholic, who has no hesitation in taking his own son prisoner if he has to, to claim the money that comes from the find. The story follows Nailer’s escape with the girl, Nita, into a scary and unknown world, on the slim hope that she might be able to find her people and they can both be saved. I suspect some of the boys I teach might be quite into it, so this is definitely a book I’m going to field test before I write it off!
Angie Thomas is such a treasure and I have a feeling quite a few of my new students will love this book. It really comes from the heart and there are so many issues young people can relate to. The downside? I did think – like The Hate U Give – it was longer that it needed to be, and took ages to kinda get to its point. It’s apparently a semi-autobiographical story, in which the main character, Bri, seeks fame and fortune as a rapper. She lives in the same general neighbourhood as Starr from THUG, Garden Heights, and there are a lot of references to Khalil’s murder within the story. But Bri has been grieving the loss of her own father to gun violence, and trying to recover from temporarily losing her mother to drug addiction in the years that followed. While mum is now home, the family are still desperately poor and always struggle to make ends meet. Bri thinks becoming a rapper like her father might be the solution to the family’s problems. The question she has to ask herself, though, is at what cost?