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Whakaari by Marion Day

Roa is a troubled teen. From a small town and with too many dads, she lives near Whakaari White Island which is both beautiful and dangerous.

Roa is being crushed by the weight of two secrets. The men her mother has brought into their lives have damaged her. Although her mother is aware of this, she has no idea that Roa is a criminal.

Whakaari never leaves Roa. She hangs out with her street gang and compares the volcano to her own feelings. A botched robbery, a rash encounter with a boy. Can she escape the ruins?

The story seemed a little disjointed to start with, bouncing the reader from present to past, between Roa and her mum Huia. I initially found it hard to feel anything for Roa, and struggled to engage with the story and how Whakaari played a meaningful part in the metaphor of Roa's life.

I put Whakaari aside for a few days before picking it back up. I'm glad I did. Once I relaxed and went with the story, author Marion Day had me awake until the early hours devouring the book to see what became of Roa.

It's an intense read - domestic violence, murder, stillbirth, and self-harm are just some of the heartbreaking realities that Roa must grapple with. Without spoiling the plot, Day moved me to tears with certain aspects of the story. While there is deep darkness, she infuses the story with hope and light, with family and with heart.

It is Day's first young adult book and as a parent I struggled with figuring out what age range could deal with some of the topics. It's not a book for your typical high schooler. That said, it is exactly the type of book that would have drawn me in as a young adult, typically defined as between 18 and 25 years old.

Day's characters are an eclectic bunch, with every character well-rounded and believable. There were moments where I could picture the exact expressions and tone of voice as characters reminded me of my own family - the indomitable Kuia and Hare especially.

The ending is a little too perfect with an epilogue wrapping up all the threads and answering any questions readers had about Roa's future. That said, it's a nice ending for the intended audience and Day manages to really drive home some of the story's biggest themes here.

Whakaari is an intense story about a girl facing huge adversity that will both capture and challenge readers.

Reviewer: Rebekah Lyell

Bateman Books


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