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Into the River by Ted Dawe

September 26, 2012 Comments off

Into the River by Ted Dawe, Pub. Mangakino University Press, 2012.

I think this is Ted Dawe’s best novel to date. It is a story that he needed to tell and it is enthralling from start to finish.

East Coast Maori boy Te Arepa is a talented boy. While eel fishing with his mate Wiremu he catches an enormous eel after a fierce struggle and ends up in the river with the eel. He learns from his grandfather Ra about the Rahui on the river and the significance it has to his tribe.

Te Arepa comes out the river a changed boy who feels the weight of his ancestry on him. He writes a poem that is to earn him a scholarship to a privileged boys boarding school in Auckland and this too changes his life.

At school all the meaningful things happen when the lights go out and Te Arepa is morphed into a boarding school boy the same as all the others. His Maoriness is belittled and his personality crushed. He is given the name Devon and he becomes Devon Santos after his Spanish ancestor Diego Santos.

What really changes Devon is the ease at which his cousin drives him to Auckland in the van. She is at one with the van, changes gears upward with her palm and downward with two fingers. The smoothness of it all impresses him.

Then his school friend Mitch gets a car, Devon gets promoted to a higher class and his relationship with a school friend Steph changes. It’s all on but you always have a choice.

Devon is later to become a major character in the boy racer culture book Thunder Road which was Dawe’s first major novel. This is great background to what makes Devon who he becomes.

As I said this book had to be written. It has strong boy appeal and cultural significance. One of the best books for teenagers I have read this year.