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Magpies Reviews Recent OneTree House Titles

Trevor Agnew, of Christchurch, is a respected reviewer and tireless advocate for and promoter of children’s and young adult literature, particularly books by New Zealand authors. He recently reviewed two OneTree House titles in Magpies Magazine Volume 36, who have graciously allowed us to share them. Read them below.

For all reviews of OneTree house titles visit our Reviews page.

Glenn Wood, ill. Scott Pearson,

One Tree House, 364pp.

978 0 9951174 7 1 $30.00

They had been friends since they were kids and she regularly displayed poor enough judgement to accompany him on outings such as this.

Regan’s judgement is certainly on the poor side, because the outing in question is a midnight drive to a graveyard in a stolen car to dig up a corpse. Spencer, the 13-year-old unlicensed driver and grave-robber, prefers to treat the law as a guideline.

’Grave borrowing; not grave robbing’, insists Spencer. He’s about to turn a drowned policeman’s body into a remote-controlled bodyguard. At this point adult readers will be wondering why a 13-year-old needs a bodyguard. By contrast 13-year-old readers will be two chapters further on and turning pages at speed.

I’ve now read this book twice and enjoyed it as a fast-moving, funny fantasy, with a double helping of ghoulish humour.

Glenn Wood’s first young adult novel, The Brain Sucker (2012), created a rare new sub-genre, the humorous adventure fantasy thriller, which he made into great reading fun for young people. Deadhead simply adds horror to the mix with Spencer’s zombie policeman experiment going slightly out of control as the re-animated Constable Garret decides that death needn’t prevent him from sorting-out his murderers. Yes, Deadhead is in bad taste but it’s classy, witty, well-written bad taste.

Spencer is a high-flying teen entrepreneur with big ideas and a small medical laboratory-cum-electronics workshop hidden in his feckless mum’s basement. Spencer’s dodgy schemes have earned him the hostility of his fellow student, rich, dim-witted Carl, who thinks that owning a sword makes him leader of his locally recruited yakuza gang. The real yakuza are offended by Carl’s bumbling gang and take steps, just as Garret’s corpse takes its own steps.

‘The living are unreliable, need sleep and want to be paid. The dead work for free,’ gloats Spencer, who is blithely unaware that Garret was murdered by a criminal gang, Death’s Disciples, led by the sinister Undertaker, whose attention is now turning to Spencer and Regan. Fortunately for our young heroes and their living-dead bodyguard, there is one character intelligent enough to grasp what’s going on. Multi-skilled woman warrior, Constable Cadence Green, has worked out that Garret’s death was foul play and she is going up against the gang single-handed.

A confusing series of comic conflicts becomes even more confusing when an electric shock sparks Garret’s brain back into action, giving him control of his body and the ability to talk. ‘There‘s something seriously wrong with you kids,’ complains Garret, who plans to protect Cadence by disposing of the criminals in order to get back to his grave and get on with dying.

If you have difficulty following the verbal mayhem, Pearson has drawn several double-page comic-book-type illustrations—’graphic replays’ that give brief plot recapitulations. It is all in the best traditions of the 1950s horror comic format.

Deadhead is in thoroughly bad taste, of course, but it is full of lively dark wit and stylish writing. It is ideal for someone with a 13-year-old sense of humour.

The last word must go (of course) to Garret. ’They’re just kids... Brilliant, deeply disturbed, intensely irritating kids’.

Tim Tipene, One Tree House, 256pp.

978 0 9951067 8 9 | $34.00

You might be white, My Timmy Me, but everything you do is Māori… Your books, your talks, your work with children and families. They have all come from your Māori side.

These words of praise for Tim Tipene from his whanau’s matriarch, Aunty Nan, are also a fair summary of the latter part of his life.

Tim Tipene’s name is a familiar one to Magpies readers because of his picture books, such as Taming the Taniwha (2001) and Hinemoa te Toa (2008) as well as such junior novels as Kura Toa Warrior School (2004) and Bullies and Warriors (2012).

Now he has written a memoir, White Moko, subtitled Stories from my Life, which gives some of the personal background to common themes running through his work: dealing with violence and abuse, and fighting to achieve goals, such as gaining self-respect and a sense of purpose in life.

All of this is a remarkable achievement. It becomes amazing when measured against his early life, described in White Moko. The very fact that Tim Tipene is alive today is amazing. Every event in his young life seemed to destine him for drugs, despair and suicide. ‘There was sexual and physical abuse going on within the family, yet no one wanted to know about it.’

Sexually abused and ill-treated, he felt he was to blame and endured guilt and shame. Yet he paints his vignettes of childhood mistreatment calmly and with restraint. The rage is still there but it is controlled and directed to all the things that Aunty Nan lauded him for.

It is remarkable how neutral Tipene’s tone is when he describes some truly heartbreaking moments. At 18, he visited his biological father, Peter, in Mount Eden Prison, hoping, perhaps naively, for a future father-son relationship. Peter had been convicted of ‘horrendous crimes’ himself, but he ignored them and ‘blamed Dad for everything bad in my life simply because Dad was Māori.’

Surreal grim experiences like these occur throughout the memoir, but there is also a strong positive element as Tipene analyses events and reflects on how he later dealt with their effects. This is not a comfortable book to read but it is well-told and breathtakingly honest. White Moko is a book that will be productive reading for every teacher and counsellor.

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