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The Calling by Fleur Beale

It was the dream of Molly's dying mother that she would become a nun. It isn't, however, the dream of her Methodist father, who wants her to marry. But what is her true calling and how can she follow it? As the 19th century draws to an end, Molly searches out the extraordinary nun Mother Mary Joseph Aubert to find out.

Author Fleur Beale really needs no introduction to New Zealand readers, so The Calling carries with it an expectation that it too, like Beale's back catalogue, will be another incredible teenage fiction read. It is no exception.

The Calling explores the power of religion over the individual, all set against the backdrop of a little known piece of New Zealand history.

Mother Mary Joseph Aubert was a charismatic nun who, after arriving in New Zealand in 1860, devoted her life to caring for others. She set up several hospitals and homes for orphans, but is also believed to be the first person known to grow cannabis in the country. Nestled beside the Whanganui River, in a settlement called Jerusalem, her convent's income came via Aubert's medicinal formulations.

Beale was asked to write about Aubert by the sisters at the Home of Compassion in Wellington, helping them find material to send to Rome in their application to have Aubert considered for sainthood. It was this work that inspired Beale to write The Calling.

She expertly weaves history with fiction, as readers follow Molly as she determines her own path - torn between her parents and their opposing wishes for her future. Molly is a strong female character, complete with flaws who grapples with the question so many of us find ourselves facing: what do we want and what do others want from us?

Beale begins each chapter with snippets from historical publications, helping readers gain insight into what life in that part of New Zealand was like.

The Calling is a fascinating read, plunging readers right straight back into the late 19th Century. Beale's books always land with high hopes, The Calling is another stellar example of fantastic young adult fiction.

Reviewed by: Rebekah Lyell Penguin Random House NZ, RRP $19.99


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