Brave Company by David Hill, Penguin NZ
It’s so nice to be reading David Hill books again! David and Ken Catran are virtually the only New Zealand children’s authors writing about our country’s involvement in international wars. It’s so important for our authors to introduce our young readers to the realities of warfare - but in stories that emphasise human virtues. This very readable novel is set in 1951, during the Korean War. Boy Seaman Russell Purchas is sixteen, stationed on board HMNZS Taupo, a frigate with 100 crew. He’s full of excitement at going into battle as part of the UN forces - but he carries a weighty secret. He’s determined to be brave and do the right thing, unlike his dead Uncle Trevor who was lauded as a hero of WWII but in reality (according to official information) was a deserter. The plot whisks us quickly into the active battle zone, interweaving the main story with a heart-rending theme focused on the agony of the Korean civilian refugees. It’s not long before Russell finds himself in the front line of the land battle, and his courage is tested as never before. Heaps of action and excitement, lots of war details (no doubt thoroughly researched), and a likeable young hero make this a riveting read for boys of about 12 to 15.
ISBN 978 0 143 30757 0 $19.99 Pb
Sinking by David Hill (Scholastic)
Early one morning as a young teen named Conrad is crossing the park on the way to swim training, an old man runs out of the bushes. He is shouting about someone called Ted. Conrad is shaken by this but doesn’t tell anyone at the pools. Not even his best mate Jaz who is also training for the Nationals.
Back at school there is a new girl in Conrad’s class. She’s skinny, short and feisty and not scared of anyone – even guys much bigger than her. Conrad soon learns this girl (Bex) is in town to look after her grandfather – the same man who was ranting in the park. Bex is waiting for her mother to come to town to help but she is caught up with the shearing back on their farm.
As Conrad gets to know Bex, she introduces him to her grandfather, George Abbott. Conrad gets on well with him and wants to know why he was out so early and behaving strangely. He begins asking questions and his dad tells him of a local tragedy years before, where a young guy drowned in the strong current of the river. He’d argued with a friend over a girl and had been drinking. The friend was asleep on the bank at the time and not responsible, but had carried the guilt with him his entire life. That man was George Abbott.
As Conrad’s friendship with Bex builds, her trust in him grows. She tells Conrad that George’s wanderings have got worse since his wife died and when he goes missing one day, Conrad is the first person she calls for help. George has left a note. Where can he be? Will they find him before something terrible happens?
Conrad and Bex race to the river on the back of her horse towards an action packed finale, to face another near tragedy.
Sinking is a fabulous story full of believable characters and David Hill’s wonderful wit. Conrad made me laugh out loud and I felt for George and his battle with early Alzheimer’s.
ISBN 9781775431329 $19.50
Reviewed by Adele Broadbent