Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Review: The Whale Rider

I came across this book right after I returned Guardian of the Dead and it reminded me that A) This book was one of the books that were set in New Zealand recommended in GoD and B)I had totally forgotten to write down what all those other books were. So I grabbed this book, it was only 150 pages so I figured I could get through it quickly and was happy to find that not only the slim size but the prose lent itself to a quick yet satisfying read.

The Whale Rider by Witi Ihimaera

I think this picture is a still from the movie but I'm not sure, I shall report back after I have seen it!

Summary: If she'd been a boy then Kahu would certainly be the one to take over tribe from her great-grandfather Koro Apirana but instead she is denied to even listen in on the boy's cultural school. Kahu however has inherited more than her name from the legendary whale rider that the tribe has descended from, she can speak to the whales including the one who has been searching for his master for all these long years.

The Good: Not only was the story short but it was very easy to read, everything flowed nicely and used language that drew the reader farther in and made the pages fly by. If I'd had a lot of time I could've easily finished this book in one sitting and would suggest it to kids who are interested in other cultures in a heartbeat. I also liked how Kahu's special abilities were portrayed in the book, she feels more like a character from a legend than a superpowered kid and that fit the book much, much more. I also enjoyed the snippets that involved the whales, those also felt more like a legend of old than a modern story and that helped add to the stories believability in a weird way. Of course no one communes with whales these days but in legends, sure!

The Bad: I do wonder why the book is narrated from the point of view of Kahu's cousin, Rawiri, instead of from her. True Kahu is only 8 at the climax of the book and the book follows her life but the author easily could've made her a little older or even had her narrate it at an older age looking back on the years. I suppose it was to help the reader connect more, Rawiri is certainly part of the tribe but he's spent time away from it and that gives him a more sympathetic perspective on the whole event, but it just struck me as odd and I kept thinking about it. And I do have to wonder a bit at Kahu's "chosen one" status. That may have been a little more believable if she narrated the story, if we saw how hard she worked behind the scenes to try and please her great-grandfather, but I guess that is a drawback to creating someone in a legend, they never feel quite as human.

I liked the book very much and now that I know my library has a copy of the movie I'll be sure to check that out in the next few weeks. It sounds rather different from the synopses I've seen around but I'm hoping they're good changes. The movie got such good reviews that they should be in any case.