Violence 101

Image result for violence 101"I read this one a month or two ago at the encouragement of one of my NCEA students, and I can totally see how it would appeal to a teenage boy! It follows a 14 year old called Hamish, whose life of crime has led him to a juvenile detention centre, where he quickly establishes himself as king pin.  Unlike most books about troubled teens, Hamish doesn’t have any underlying trauma that has led to his offending – unlike the other kids at the centre – and basically he’s just too clever for his own good (and fancies himself as too badass).  Ultimately he is able to face up to his past behaviour and start to reflect on how he can turn his life around, but not before putting everyone around him through hell first!

Mrs Battleship

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What a spectacular, tiny little book. Tim Tipene is a kiwi author who survived a childhood of devastating abuse at the hands of his parents. As the result of some truly exceptional teachers, he came to understand what love and kindness look like, and was able to make the choice as an adult to live a completely different life to the one he was born into. This short, incredibly easy to read novel delivers what could in another context be called horror stories, in a humourous, touching way.  It’s so easy to read my daughter, who is 7, polished it off in one sitting; her takeaway was that life is hard, but it’s also funny, and you can overcome anything if you have kind people to show you how.  Not a bad message…


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This was kind of amazing but also quite confusing and maybe a little hard to get into… And I’m still not 100% sure what happened in the end. It’s essentially about a teenage boy who falls into his great-grandfather’s story during WWI, after being hit by a bus in the present day.  It didn’t really grab me from the outset, and even once I got into it I was still largely reading to find out how he was going to get back to the present day – let’s just say that it didn’t end how I thought it would! I think I’d recommend this, but it’s definitely complex and you’d want to give it to young people who are interested in war, because they do have to work for it, it’s not an easy read.   Weird. But good. But Weird.



This was a quick and easy read I picked up off the HHT shelf and was able to get through in just a couple of nights.  It’s a fast paced story about two cousins, Huia and River, who become shipwrecked on a fishing expedition and have to walk out of the mountains back to safety.  It’s a harrowing journey and they would have been totally lost if it wasn’t for Huia’s knowledge of Maoritanga, which allows them to navigate the land, find food and keep their spirits up.  It’s not the most amazing read on the planet, but it might appeal to those looking for a kids against the wild adventure, and there’s certainly a lot to learn in terms of Maori language and traditions; River’s pride in his growing abilities and knowledge is quite wonderful and inspiring.

From Under the Overcoat


Under the Overcoat is a collection of short stories by a New Zealand author, Sue Orr. Each story is a clever retelling of famous short stories (e.g. The Dolls house by Catherine Mansfield) in a modern, kiwi context. It’s hard to describe in a way that will do it justice, but it’s really, really good. One student in particular has read it a couple of times, as has her sister at home.  Worth exploring for students and teachers, especially the story The Eviction Party.

Into the Darklands

into the darklands

In recent years Nigel Latta has become more famous for his tv show about NZ society (for example, the sugar episode is one I use a lot for Home Ec class), but this book was my introduction to him, and a brutal one at that.  It documents his work as a psychologist to some of the most violent offenders in recent New Zealand history, including the “unbelievably pointless” murder of pizza delivery boy Michael Choy by a group of young teens – one was only 12 at the time.  Latta’s voice throughout the book is as no-nonsense as it is on tv. He swears freely and calls a spade a spade.  It makes for a gripping read, but definitely one that will have you looking over your shoulder at your neighbour with a newfound suspicion…

I Am Not Esther

I am not esther

I’m in two minds about this book. On the one hand, the story is completely fascinating, but on the other, I found the writing pretty lacking.  However, most students who read this book absolutely love it, so perhaps I’m being too picky!  Based on the real NZ community Gloriavale (can we call it a cult? I suppose we probably should), this book is about a young girl whose mum was raised in a really religious sect but broke away as a teenager and became pregnant.  The mum can’t cope anymore and calls the family to take Kirby back to the community.  They promptly change Kirby’s name to Esther and begin to indoctrinate her into their ways (yeah, it’s not great when she gets totally brainwashed).  Given it’s based on a real place, the story is pretty intriguing.  It’s a really easy read and if you enjoy it, there are a couple of other books in the series you can sink yourself into.