Saturday, August 2, 2014

Historical fiction for boys

Conrad Cooper’s Last Stand by Leonie Agnew, Penguin NZ

Fans of Leonie’s award-winning Super Finn will be bound to enjoy this new story. It’s set in Auckland in 1978 at the time of the Bastion Point occupation. It’s written from the point of view of ten-year-old Conrad, who’s very much an innocent abroad. He lives just down the road from Bastion Point and when the story starts he has no idea what’s going on. Conrad has his own problems trying to figure out gods and who to believe in and all that stuff. He settles on believing in Tane Mahuta, Maori god of the forests - so the story is written in a style that frequently addresses Tane. Conrad thinks Tane would like him to protest over the removal of an old pohutukawa in the school grounds, and this idea gradually ends up with Conrad getting involved in the Bastion Point protest. Conrad’s mental torments are described in a light-hearted, wry-sounding tone - but the underlying themes are anything but light-hearted. Conrad’s personal struggle over how to cope with his authoritarian stepfather is an important subject, and the background information about the Bastion Point occupation and eviction makes essential reading for New Zealand youngsters, both Maori and Pakeha. Heartily recommended for readers of about ten to thirteen, especially boys.

Themes:  family issues, historical fiction, reading age 8-13 years

ISBN 978 0 143 57119 3 $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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