Review: Wake by Elizabeth Knox

Knox, E. (2013). Wake. Wellington, NZ: Victoria University Press. [Fantasy]


Wake is set in Kahukura, a small fictional town in Golden Bay, not too far from Nelson.  In Kahukura there is a small fishing wharf, an expensive luxury resort, a native bird reserve for endangered kakapo, an old folks’ home, and a new subdivision is being built.  The place is so familiar to a New Zealand audience that you can almost smell the sea air and recognise all of the locals.  That is what makes what happens there so jarring.

An illness suddenly descends upon the town, turning all its inhabitants into murderous zombie-type creatures.  The illness lasts until every last person is killed.  Except for 14 survivors.  These 14 people happened to be out of the town limits when the illness hit, but returned to town as an invisible ‘No Go’ zone surrounded Kahukura.  Now they’re trapped there – there is no escape by sea or land, and, by the looks of the Air Force personnel they find splattered on a roof, there’s no way in or out by air either.

The survivors then go about the business of surviving.  There’s a big clean up to do to stop the spread of disease, they need to keep themselves fed and healthy (in mind, as well as in body), there is a whole lot of untended animals left behind, and some very rare birds that need to be kept alive.  And then there’s the long term goals: how can they contact the outside world? how are they going to get out of the zone? what is this zone and what is it for? and who is the black man that watches them so intently but runs from any contact?

I know this book is a fantasy, and so the reason for the illness and the zone are fantastical, and requires you to suspend your disbelief.  But by making the setting so real and so contemporary, Elizabeth Knox has made a really creepy story!  The resolution may not satisfy everyone, however, the story is such a creepy, compelling, page-turner, and asks such good questions about the ethics of survival and what makes us human a lot will be forgiven.

Website: Bob’s Books

Bob's Books

Docherty, B. (n.d.). Home. Retrieved January 5, 2015, from

Category: fiction reading and reviews for primary school children; fiction reading and reviews for teenagers

Overview: Bob’s Books is a blog where children’s and young people’s books are reviewed by New Zealander (and ex-National Librarian and ex-book award judge) Bob Docherty.  The reviews are categorised into loose age bands and genres, and are also labelled with tags.  Bob reviews books regularly and, while he does not review New Zealand books exclusively, they do get their fair share of real estate.

Review: Dear Vincent by Mandy Hager

Hager, M. (2013). Dear Vincent. Auckland, NZ: Random House. [Realism]

rsz_dearvincentTara’s life is not so good at the moment.  She’s had to stop going to school in the afternoons so she can work part-time at an old folks’ home.  Tara’s mum needs her help to pay the mortgage on the over-priced house that is slowly rotting around them.  Her dad is housebound by the stroke that paralysed him six years ago, and when Tara’s not at school, or work, she’s caring for him and running the house so her mum can work night shifts.  On top of this, Tara had to move to a school that her mum could afford and she hasn’t made any friends.  And after recently discovering the truth behind the death of her troubled older sister five years ago, it has all become a bit much.

If this all sounds a bit bleak – it is.  However, there are brushes of light in the story: the growing friendship with Max, one of the old folks Tara cares for, and his grandson; the introduction of philosophy to her life; the connection with her family back in Ireland; and, perhaps the greatest cause for hope, Tara’s talent and passion for painting.  Through her art, Tara is able to express the emotions that she feels unable to verbalise – and those around her are able to see the pain she’s in and offer the help that she is incapable of asking for.

I got a bit frustrated with Tara at times.  Yes, she’s got it tough, but when others try to reach out and help her she shuns them.  And then when some of the girls at her school offer her sympathy and share some of their troubles, she thinks that must be unpleasant for them but no one has it as bad as her.  However, Mandy Hager is such a good writer she walks this thin line really well.  The book is bleak, but not too bleak; Tara is a bit frustrating, but you still care about what happens to her and wish her well.

I won’t be putting a ‘seniors only’ sticker on this book in our school library, however, I will be lending it with care.  It needs to be read by students who are robust enough to hear the bleak story, but not be seduced by the idea of suicide.  It should give students food for thought about how destructive suicide can be on a family.  And hopefully make them be a bit more forgiving towards the adults in their lives – you don’t always know the full story of those people closest to you…