Futuristic dystopian girls on islands …

Cover of Ebony HillIn the world of NZ young adult fiction, there seems to be a bit of a common theme – future dystopias involving girls trapped (and escaping) from islands.

This year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards’ young adult finalists include two such titles: Ebony Hill and Fierce September.

Both these books are sequels – because I hadn’t read The Sea-Wreak Stranger, I tried it first before reading Ebony Hill – back to back on a rainy Sunday. They are those kind of books – the ones that you can’t put down and merely grunt at your partner when he presents you with a cup of tea.

cover of Fierce SeptemberFierce September the sequel to Juno of Taris – a finalist in the 2009 awards. I read it a while back and is another great book. I will find it hard to choose between it and Ebony Hill.

Both books are set in a near future where (mis)use of technology has caused planetary-wide devastation and the feisty non-conforming heroines escape from a small island run by corrupt rulers.  In both books they find an outside world also suffering from problems and corruption.

Last year The Crossing (where a feisty young heroine in near-future dystopia escapes from a Pacific island) won the award. The sequel, Into The Wilderness, has not been nominated, but the finale – Resurrection is already in the library. This is a far darker trilogy – the horrors of the island are more extreme – but in my opinion an even better read than this year’s nominees.

So far I am going to be at a loss to make a choice, but there are three more nominated titles to read:

The awards ceremony is on the 18 May and children can vote for their own favourite, the Children’s Choice Award.

P.S. Another book with this theme – Exodus – is not a NZ title but possibly my favourite of all.

Go Fish goes large at the New Zealand Post Book Awards

Here are the winners from tonight’s New Zealand Post Book Awards ceremony, congratulations to the authors and the publishers and all those involved:

CoverIllustrated non-fiction winner: Go Fish: Recipes and stories from the New Zealand Coast by Al Brown, Random House NZ is the night’s big success – winning the People’s Choice Award and the Illustrated non-fiction category.

The other double winner is General non-fiction winner: Encircled Lands: Te Urewera, 1820-1921 by Judith Binney, Bridget Williams Books which took out the prestigious Book of the Year award.

Find out more about the finalists and winners of the best first book awards.

Thanks to those livetweeting the event including http://twitter.com/nzbookcouncil and http://twitter.com/auchmill for all the up to date information.

New Zealand Post Book Awards – winners announced tonight

Tonight is the big night in New Zealand’s literary calendar – the New Zealand Post Book Awards awards ceremony.

If you want to get all the gossip and hot of the press awards news, Noel from the New Zealand Book Council will be live tweeting from the event via http://twitter.com/nzbookcouncil.

Here are the finalists in the running:

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NZ Post Book Awards – Young Adult Nominations

CoverThere are five Young Adult titles shortlisted for the NZ Post Book Awards. Tonight I will be on a panel discussing them at the opening of the new Te Tai Tamariki premises in Victoria Street.  It seems trite to say the standard is very high, obviously they wouldn’t have been nominated if they weren’t excellent books! Suffice to say, after reading all five, I didn’t have a sense of one particular book as being a clear favourite for the top spot. Each one has its own star appeal. But I think it would be hard to overlook Mandy Hager’s The Crossing and Tanya Roxborogh’s Banquo’s Son for emotional punch.

The Crossing is described on the cover by Margaret Mahy as “1984 for teenagers”. Conceptually it is a brilliant dystopian sci-fi fantasy. The survivors of an ocean liner that has grounded on a tropical island during a world-wide plague outbreak have gradually enslaved the locals. They prey upon them for new slaves and their plague-free blood. It is an appalling vision of what a powerful elite can achieve when morality is thrown out the window. The hero, young Maryam, is the equivalent of Winston Smith – she gradually realises that being one of the privileged chosen is a two-edged sword. And she decides not to stay around to be slowly bled to death.

To be honest  I didn’t find the comparison to 1984 to be particularly relevant when trying to convey to someone else the emotional climate of the story. It is far more like The Handmaid’s Tale than Orwell’s great classic. And it does read like a winner – not surprisingly, because Mandy Hager has already won the LIANZA Esther Glen Award for fiction in 2008 for her novel Smashed.

CoverYesterday, I was privileged to hear Tanya Roxborogh speaking at Avonside Girls’ School about her novel Banquo’s Son. I had intended reading it anyway, but started unenthusiastically with the thought: I have to read five books by … so I had better get moving … My plan was to read a chapter or two, then switch to the Lee Child on my bedside table that constitutes my real reading pleasure. But I found pretty quickly that I didn’t want to put Banquo’s Son down. Like Tanya I had taught Macbeth for years in the classroom and always wondered how Banquo’s children got to be the rulers of Scotland, when the play ends with Malcolm and Donalbain (the dead king’s sons) firmly back in the running. Tanya explores the “what if” raised by the Scottish play and introduces us to a Fleance any mother would be proud to call her own.

She mentioned in her talk that the young man’s face on the cover is not the perfect Fleance she imagined in her dream of him. But I don’t think there were razor blades in medieval Scotland, let alone hot showers and deodorant. It’s a great cover image and it manages to convey the dark elements of the narrative. Although, not a tragedy – in the strictest sense, it is a tale full of sound and fury. Plenty of action for boys and a strong romantic thread for lovers of that genre. It is the first of a trilogy, the next is about to go to print.

So in conclusion, the world of YA literature in New Zealand has plenty to write home about. Although I wondered whether one of these two novels might be the eventual winner, the one that kept me up late on a Saturday night turning pages as quickly as I could, was End of the Alphabet by Fleur Beale. It is a deceptively simple tale of Ruby Yarrow, who decides one day after talking with her friend, that she is not going to be a doormat anymore. If you want to find out more, I recommend you get a copy … it’s not surprising that Fleur’s book is so readable because she is also a past LIANZA Esther Glen Award winner: Juno of Taris in 2009.

But of course, half the fun of literary competitions for readers is trying to guess the winner and I am sure you will have your views on who it should be. I am content to wait and see.