• NZ Booklovers

Slice of Heaven by Des O’Leary

A finalist in the NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adult 2019.

Life for Sione and his mates at Manawahe East High in South Auckland is pretty sweet – a slice of heaven. But one day when they’re in after-school detention there’s an emergency. Another school’s turned up for a softball game but the Manawahe junior boys team hasn’t’ shown up. Sione, TJ, Hieu, Jordan and the rest are hurriedly pulled out of detention and onto the field to form a replacement team, with Leilani in charge of the equipment. The problem is none of them can play and they don’t really want to learn, at least not at first.

Slice of Heaven is author Des O’Leary’s first novel, and it is an incredible debut.

O’Leary was a teacher for many years at Aorere College and was inspired to write the book after a student told him they liked to read books about people like themselves. O’Leary tried, and failed, to find a book with teenagers set in South Auckland in it so set about writing his own.

The result is a fun, funny and diverse novel featuring some wonderful characters that personify South Auckland. The setting of the book is both incredibly familiar and immensely uncomfortable at the same time.

O’Leary does play on the stereotypes a little. There are gangs and poverty in the lives of the characters. O’Leary touches on some tough subjects, including child abuse, but uses these themes to challenge the negative connotations. While the social and economic depravity of the area is present, he ensures the reader know that there’s also plenty of lovely people striving to do their best.

The novel features diverse characters highlighting the multicultural society –Vietnamese, Māori, Indian Fijian, Samoan and Tongan are all reflected in the pages. O’Leary uses those cultures to help shine a light on different viewpoints and beliefs. His experience and joy from teaching shines through. Each character has a distinct personality and story, and each feels very authentic. The way they talk, the way cliques are portrayed, it is clear O’Leary knows teenagers and understands how to write to appeal to them.

The narration of the novel does jump from character to character a little, which will require a little bit of extra concentration and flexibility in thinking for some younger readers. However, it is a relatively easy read, with gentle and insightful themes. This uniquely Kiwi book should be a required text in any school library.

Slice of Heaven is a really wonderful, and immensely important, book. An absolute must read from a writer we should all be watching.

Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Submarine, RRP $25