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Welcome to New York Alyssa by Sarah Powell

This novel has a gutsy premise and a dystopian feel that will appeal to high school students here in New Zealand and more broadly around the world.

The inclusion of New York as a location really completes the intrigue and feeling that the story has the potential to be a big deal on the literary landscape. Sarah Powell has constructed a novel that keeps the reader hanging on tenterhooks throughout with a wide range of twists and turns that, even with decades of reading YA and novels, you just don’t see coming. The first of which being the fact that New York is in its own world of drama and struggle with - as the blurb suggests - ‘Marines, rebels, vigilantes, the wealthy elite and the hard working lower class … imprisoned in self-sustaining anarchy.’

The central protagonist comes from New Zealand, but the best thing about that is that it isn’t exploited. There are no long descriptors of the beauty of the South Island, or the typical exploration of parochial small towns. Rather it is a plot point that is required for characterisation and referred to, but not overused. Thank goodness. It is really a story of survival in the tempestuous landscape of the new New York. This city of demons and destruction has been completely cut off from the rest of the world.

Coming from a Marine family, Alyssa has her wits about her and takes on that traditional stoic bravado of teenagehood before quickly becoming unstuck as she gets kidnapped early in her time in New York. Now she must establish what is happening in this foreign town and what is truth and what is fiction. Problem becomes for her to actually survive the ordeal first.

New York is really a central character in this novel, and the writing is full of rich and clear descriptions of the city. Clearly Powell has spent a lot of time here as she writes with such confidence and detail. Her writing style is easy to read and keeps the reader engaged throughout. It is easy to imagine the Welcome to New York Alyssa will become a popular choice both for high school students and their teachers. The fresh voice of Powell comes through with language and imagery choices that feel new and exciting at each page turn.

Here’s hoping there is a lot more to come from Sarah Powell’s oeuvre.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Mary Egan Publishers