Last time I mentioned that I'd read some YA books by New Zealand authors. Sadly, only two so far, but three more are on their way from Wellington to me at this very moment. Woot! Two of those books are #2 & 3 in The Blood of the Lamb Trilogy. The first book, The Crossing, is one I picked up in a Whitcoull's Bookstore on Cashel Mall in Christchurch. (OT: Please consider donating to NZ Red Cross (2011 Earthquake Appeal) or NZ SPCA (Canterbury SPCA Earthquake Appeal) or any other charitable organization you like to the help with Chch earthquake recovery efforts.)
The Crossing (Blood of the Lamb Book #1) by Mandy Hager. I'm not sure how to sum this one up for you and I don't really like the blurb behind that link there. Hmm... Ah! This one from the Whitcoull's website is better:
"The Crossing is the first book in a stunning new trilogy that follows the fate of Maryam and her unlikely companions - Joseph, Ruth, and Lazarus. This is fast, suspenseful drama underpinned by a powerful and moving story about love and loss. The people of Onewere, a small island in the Pacific, know that they are special - chosen to survive the deadly event that consumed the Earth. Now, from the rotting cruise ship Star of the Sea, the elite control the population - manipulating old texts to set themselves up as living 'gods'. But what the people of Onewere don't know is this: the leaders will stop at nothing to meet their own blood-thirsty needs. When Maryam crosses from child to woman, she must leave everything she has ever known and make a crossing of another kind. But life inside the ship is not as she had dreamed, and she is faced with the unthinkable: obey the leaders and very likely die, or turn her back on every belief she once held dear."
Even better is the cover quote from renowned NZ Children's Lit author Margaret Mahy (who I'll talk about in a minute): "Like '1984' for teenagers - direct, passionate and powerful". Just think about that for a minute and if it doesn't make you go "Whoa" you're not reading right. Read it again. ... Got it now? Yeah. That's what I'm talking about.
This book covers all sorts of issues from religious hypocrisy to forced breeding. In short, not your usual YA fare. It does it in such a skilled fashion that I had some seriously visceral reactions to some of the scenes, although no scene crossed the line, if you know what I mean. The young characters learn a lot in this first book and it's a helluva a way to grow up too fast. The world they live in is harsh and tightly controlled. Strict lines are drawn and you're damned, pretty much literally, if you dare to so much as question them. This isn't YA for the timid reader and I love that about it. When the U.S. is caught up in the pablum that is Twilight-mania (Yes, I said it and I stand behind it.), NZ is putting out truly amazing books for teens. Well-written and with powerful and empowering (Gods, I hate that word, but there you have it.) themes. The heroine, Maryam, has to reassess her entire world in the face of newly-discovered truth. She has to redefine who she is without the labels and locks that others have put on her. I can't wait for the other two books to arrive in my mailbox so I can read the rest! (The third book coming is Banquo's Son. The first in a trilogy about Fleance. You know, the only boy in Shakespeare's Macbeth who doesn't snuff it at the hands Mackers or his henchmen. I should've bought it when I was there but, damn, books are pricey in NZ, and this one was heavy, too. I didn't want to haul around it in my already stuffed luggage. So now I'm paying shipping instead of tax, and I have to wait. D'oh!)
The other book I picked up while in Chch was Kaitangata Twitch by Margaret Mahy. The clerk who helped me at the bookstore was astonished that I'd never heard of her. All I could really offer was the fact that I was an ignorant American. :-( If it's not American or English, we don't get it in our bookstores/libraries. Hell, we don't even get Canadian lit unless we go looking for it--in Canada. Anywho, I discovered this (or rather my hubby did) on our flight from Sydney, Aus, to Christchurch, NZ. They've made a TV series out of it and there were, allegedly, a few half-hour eps available in-flight. Sadly, I couldn't get any of them to work. (I got to watch Cosi instead, though, so I'm not bitter.)
This book is what I would call magical realism. Here's what the Whitcoull's site (linked above) says:
"Kaitangata is an island with a rocky fist punching skywards. Kaitangata seems to have a will of its own, and a voice, although only Meredith can hear it...'What we need is a powerful enchantress,' Meredith cried. 'Someone who could put a spell on Marriott.' As she spoke, a strange thought came into her head, running round and round inside her like a mouse on a pet-shop wheel. It was not a thought she could share, for it had a wickedness hidden in it and Meredith did not want anyone to know just how wicked she could be, even if it was only in her dreams. Can Meredith save the island from an unscrupulous developer? How could the dreamer of the family succeed where grown-ups have failed? Only Kaitangata can tell..."
They call it "a spellbinding supernatural thriller", and that's a fair categorization, too. The fantastical lives hand-in-hand with the everyday. This book is about the power of the Earth itself and one girl's connection to it. It reminds me a little of The Dark is Rising Sequence. Natural elements beyond "ordinary" reality that have a direct effect on "ordinary" and not-so-ordinary people. I love when a character is faced with something so powerful that she can't quite wrap her head around it and yet she embraces the challenge and achieves more than she thinks she can. This is an awesome lesson for anyone at any age.
Last installment coming next time. I'll talk a little more about magical realism and what happens when you don't pay attention to what you reserve at the library, and "the raunchiest book" on the Children's Books floor of Powell's in Portland.