Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera
The current news includes the heartbreaking story of pilot whales beaching themselves on a New Zealand island, dying in droves as the residents try to save them. I cannot but think of the book, The Whale Rider, written by Witi Ihimaera, every time I see the pictures.
This is an old book (1987) but it is one that bears rereading. It is rich in Maori history, and is told in the present tense as well as in the words of the legends and myths showing the Maori relationship with the gods and the creatures of the sea.
“If the story has a beginning, it is with Kahu, “a disappointing girl born in the line of the great chiefs. By custom, leadership falls from the eldest son to the eldest son. To have a great-granddaughter interrupt the line was an inconsolable sorrow to Great-grandfather Koro. He vows to have nothing to do with the child. However, she adores him from the first moment she sees him, and will not be dissuaded from loving him no matter how cruelly he ignores her.
When Koro begins to despair of passing the mantle, he starts classes in Maori traditions, hoping to find a fitting young man to come into the line. While he teaches inside, Kahu is learning outside. Not surprisingly, the teaching takes place in the community building. When Kahu was born off island, her afterbirth was brought back to her island and community, and buried just there. Legend has it that the first golden whale rider threw his last spear to mark his people – and that it had landed, just there.
The story follows Kahu’s young life and her ability to communicate with the sea and its hosts. When whales begin to beach themselves on her island, she is the one to save them from total destruction.
There are tears to be shed here, and much laughter as we meet the various family members, including Koro and his wife, Nanny Flowers, queen of the motorcycle gang, and the narrator, Kahu’s uncle. This book is engrossing and touching, and unfortunately, timely. It has been made into an amazing movie worthy of the book. – Review by Jan Cravens, Youth Services assistant
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
So what do you do when death is no longer a part of life? In Neal Shusterman’s newest book, Scythe, medical and technological advances have eliminated death as a part of natural life. But to control population, some pruning must occur.
And therefore, a group of highly trained men and women are tasked with population reduction, or gleaning. They are called Scythes – and they follow 10 rules for the legal taking of lives and answer to no one.
Scythe Faraday chooses Rowan and Citra as apprentices after chance encounters with each. There seems to be nothing exceptional in either teen, but Faraday has seen something in each. Unfortunately, only one will be chosen to ascend to the title of Scythe, and to complicate matters, against their best intentions, Rowan and Citra fall in love.
Training for the two begins. It is harsh but fair; challenging but ethical. Scythe Faraday is fair, ethical and compassionate, understanding that unless he respects death he cannot inflict it upon random citizens. After Faraday’s untimely death (murder?), Citra is taken on by Scythe Curie, who echoes much the same values as Scythe Faraday. Rowan, however, is taken on by Scythe Goddard, who sees himself above the law and enjoys the necessary killings as sport. Yet each, technically, follows the 10 commandments, which include: 1 – Thou shalt kill, and 2 – Thou shalt be beholden to no laws beyond these.
Scythe Goddard was the one who proposed that since Scythes were allowed only one ascendant apprentice, the Faraday apprentice not chosen should be gleaned, immediately, by the one who was. This proposal before the MidMerica convention of Scythes, demonstrated that there are politics at work even in this highest of organizations.
Will Citra and Rowan remain confident in each other? Will Rowan be turned to view his profession as an avenue for legalized violence? This first of the Arc of the Scythe trilogy does answer those questions, and then sets the scene for further exploration into the ethics of living and dying and very powerful governmental bodies.
Neal Shusterman is no stranger to tackling sensitive topics. This new trilogy takes a look at a world in which death is no longer a natural occurrence. In the Unwind Dystology, Shusterman explored a world without abortion but in which parents were given the opportunity to “unwind” children when they achieved age 13.
A visit with Neal Shusterman is one in which story telling is the point. But along the way, he forces us to think about the possibilities our futures could hold. — review by Jan Cravens, Youth Services assistant
What to read, what to read? Always a dilemma – the books keep coming and the list keeps growing!
I have loved reading as long as I can remember. I read when I can and what I can – old, new, mystery, romance, historical fiction, biography, etc., etc. I hope to share some titles and reviews to keep in mind when that “what to read?” question pops up again.
Check back often for these reviews on our Kids and Teens pages!
Jan Cravens, Youth Services Assistant