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  • Writer's pictureNZ Booklovers

Gracehopper by Mandy Hager

Mandy Hager’s Gracehopper is a wonderfully compelling narrative that delves into the deepest areas of identity, resilience, and the quest for self-discovery. Set against the backdrop of Wellington, New Zealand, the novel follows the life of Grace, an eighteen-year-old of Asian descent grappling with the issues of her past and the complexities of her present.

The novel opens with a scene that is both intriguing and surreal, as Grace encounters a mysterious man at a railway station, setting the tone for a story that is as unpredictable as it is engaging. Grace’s character is skilfully crafted, embodying Bruce Lee and the martial arts philosophy, which wonderfully serves as a metaphor for her internal battles and the strength she musters in facing life’s adversities.

Hager’s exploration of Grace’s heritage and her mother Katherine’s refusal to confront their shared history adds a layer of depth to the narrative. The silence surrounding the 1999 Jiji earthquake and the death of Grace’s father casts a shadow over their lives, fuelling Grace’s inner turmoil and her mother’s constantly debilitating depression.

The secondary plotline, featuring the relationship between Grace and Charlie, a character with achondroplasia, is handled with sensitivity and insight. By the way, that’s a kind of dwarfism for those of us without a working knowledge of medical terms. Their bond, rooted in a shared history and mutual understanding, is a testament to the novel’s ability to portray diverse experiences with authenticity and respect.

Hager’s prose is sharp and evocative, with dialogues that cut to the core of the characters’ emotions and descriptions that paint vivid images of the setting. There are so many moments in the novel when Hager uses a particular word or expression to explain the vividness of a scene and, ultimately, demonstrates her immense ability to capture the essence of a moment.

Gracehopper is not just a story about personal struggles; it is a narrative that reflects the universal experiences of love, ambition, and the yearning for a sense of belonging. The characters’ journeys are connected through themes of trauma, mental illness, and the resilience required to navigate the challenges they face.

The novel’s title, a nod to the protagonist’s nickname and her agile, determined nature, encapsulates the essence of the story. Grace, like a grasshopper, leaps over obstacles, drawing strength from her cultural roots and the wisdom imparted by her martial arts training. One cannot miss the reference to the Karate Kid, also.

Overall, Gracehopper is an exceptional addition to the young adult genre, offering a rich mix of themes that resonate with readers of all ages. Hager’s storytelling is (always) both masterful and moving, ensuring that this novel will not only captivate but also inspire those who journey through its pages. It is a work that deserves recognition and a place among the year’s most outstanding literary achievements.

OneTree House

Reviewer: Chris Reed


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