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Awa and the Dreamrealm by Isa Pearl Ritchie

Life is already complicated for Awa Bryant, when she starts having weird dreams - waking dreams. Strange coincidences start appearing between her real life and her dreams.

The Dreamrealm is full of incredible fantastical creatures, and at first glance it is a glorious escape from Awa's daily struggles.

But something is not right and soon she discovered she has a bigger quest. Everything she cares about is at stake, but is she brave enough to face her fears and save her fears?

Author Isa Pearl Ritchie has created a wonderful world, or Dreamrealm, in this book aimed at the younger reader. Often fantasy worlds are too complex or complicated for 'tweens' to comprehend. But Ritchie nails it.

Awa's lucid dreaming, and the world she enters, is described so fully you can picture it in your mind's eye. Veila, a quirky glowing creature who helps guide Awa through the mysterious Dreamrealm is an interesting and lovable character too. Together - the setting and Veila's odd aloofness - lends an Alice in Wonderland vibe to the story. However, that's where the comparison ends. Ritchie draws on mātauranga Māori within the book, although it may not be obvious to all. Dreams and spirituality are a large part of the Māori identity, and it was fascinating, and incredibly exciting, to see this coming through in a book aimed at the early teen reader. It's often said that children need to recognise themselves in the stories they read - Awa and the Dreamrealm does that.

Awa as a character is likable and many younger readers will instantly relate to her. The 13-year-old grapples with real-life situations, including moving, divorce, anxiety and bullying. Ritchie makes sure those storylines are realistic too - Awa's problems aren't solved in a nice, simple way. She perseveres and tries to do the right thing, sometimes slipping up along the way.

It was quite obvious that this book was written as the first in a series. Ritchie spent a lot of time setting the scene, building the world, and ensuring the characters are memorable, relatable and authentic.

With the second book due in the coming months, I feel the best of the Dreamrealm is yet to come.

Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Te Rā Aroha Press, RRP $22.99