• The Sapling

Book Reviews: New Young Adult Fiction From Aotearoa

Gem Wilder reviews some out of this world young adult fiction. There's danger, magic, psychic abilities and love; whether you want hold your breathe adventure or clutch your heart romance, we've got your back.


Tim Te Maro and te Subterranean Heartsick Blues by H. S. Valley (Hardie Grant)

Let me be real with you, I was super excited to read this book. First up, a queer NZ YA set in a magical boarding school is exactly my kind of read. Tuarua, I’m a big Bob Dylan fan, so the title reference to his Subterranean Homesick Blues album had me intrigued. And then after a brief flick through, my kid and I realised that all the chapter titles were the names of New Zealand songs, including many of my all-time faves such as Midnight Marauders (Fat Freddy’s Drop), Home Again (Shihad) and Jesus I Was Evil (Darcy Clay). Armed with this knowledge I was ready to dive in.


Tim Te Maro is a senior at Fox Glacier High School for the Magically Adept. His mother is a teacher there, and his father was also on the faculty until not long before our book begins. Also, just prior to the start of the story Tim’s girlfriend, Lizzie, has just broken up with him. So Tim is feeling a little down on his luck when he’s approached by his arch-nemesis, fellow student Elliott Parker. It seems the boy Lizzie has left Tim for had been Elliott’s casual boyfriend, and Elliott comes up with a plan to get back at their former lovers; he convinces Tim to partner up with him for their upcoming project, caring for magical egg babies. Elliott’s theory is that Lizzie and Blake’s blossoming relationship will crumble under the pressure of becoming new “parents”.


And so, the challenge is on, much to the initial surprise of Tim’s and Elliott’s friends. But as Tim and Elliott excel at the project, they grow closer, developing deeper feelings for one another. A relationship is born.


This book was super horny. It was very much tightly focused on hormonal teenagers in a boarding school environment, and there were times when the magical aspect to the story seemed redundant. I would definitely have liked to see some stronger world building and explanations of the different types of magic that students inherited and were taught. Ultimately the book was still satisfying and successful without this, due to the strength of the personal relationships explored.


This book was super horny. It was very much tightly focused on hormonal teenagers in a boarding school environment...

The story is told by Tim, and we get his honest and uncensored thoughts and emotions. He is a likeable and mature character, and his growth over the course of the book felt realistic. Sex scenes and indeed any scenes with physical intimacy included consent, and the relationship between Tim and Elliott involved a lot of communication.


The Subterranean nod in the title refers to the location of the high school – underground beneath Fox Glacier. But other than that, the song name chapter titles didn’t seem to serve any function other than being a fun gimmick.


In the acknowledgements, author H.S. Valley thanks “Astolat, AO3, fandom in general, and all my Discord and Tumblr peeps.” After reading this acknowledgement the book fell into place for me. It reads like a fanfic – a really good, engaging fanfic. That explained to me the tight focus on the relationship between Tim and Elliott. It was thoroughly enjoyable, had a lot of heart, and I’m hoping there will be more installments of this world to build on what was started here.


It was thoroughly enjoyable, had a lot of heart, and I’m hoping there will be more installments of this world to build on what was started here.


TIM TE MARO AND THE SUBTERRANEAN HEARTSICK BLUES


By H.S. Valley

Hardie Grant


RRP $23.00


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Believing In Marvels by Sarah M Bailey (Betty & Ida Books)


Believing in Marvels is another NZ YA with a supernatural bent. Marvella ‘Marvel’ Harris is an Auckland teen with psychic abilities. She sees flashes of the future, but they aren’t always clear, and she has to try and translate them.


Marvel’s gift is a family trait. Her beloved grandmother, Sadie, is a palm reader, and her Aunt Shirley had also been psychic. Marvel’s father has trouble accepting her gift, knowing it causes her stress, and was the reason she was bullied at her former school.


Marvel is surrounded by a host of diverse characters; there’s Noa, her new friend, who she tells about her powers and is instantly accepted by; her artist mother; a wayward junkie hairdresser cousin, the son of Aunt Shirley; and many others, some of whom are more accepting of Marvel’s oddity than others.


The plot revolves around Marvel, with the help of Noa, needing to figure out what the debilitating recurring visions she is having are trying to tell her. She knows her cousin Vince is involved, and in danger somehow. The book takes the reader on a journey into a seedy underbelly of dark web bitcoin ransoms, drugs, violence and addiction. It’s all firmly set in Auckland, the streets and suburbs of which are travelled on by Marvel’s trusty skateboard, and occasionally the odd bus or taxi, making it feel very accurate to my teen years.


It’s all firmly set in Auckland, the streets and suburbs of which are travelled on by Marvel’s trusty skateboard, and occasionally the odd bus or taxi, making it feel very accurate to my teen years.

There’s a lot of action in Believing in Marvels, and it is at its best when building tension. There are moments when Marvel and her friends are in real danger, and you don’t know if the book will end in tragedy. I had moments of genuine breath-holding when reading.


I had moments of genuine breath-holding when reading.

This is a real coming of age book, with Marvel coming into her own and learning how to harness her power. There were times when I felt it slipped into stereotypes, but overall the firm hold on location and the interesting spread of characters kept me reading. I imagine Believing in Marvels would appeal particularly to Auckland teens who recognize themselves and their friends in the characters, and are familiar with the streets, suburbs and locations featured.


believing in marvels

by Sarah M Bailey

Betty & Ida Books


RRP$36.00


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GEM WILDER


Gem Wilder is a Wellington writer whose work has been published in and performed at many places, including The Spinoff, The Sapling, Sport, Is It Bedtime Yet?, Enjoy Gallery, The Dowse, Wellington Museum, and LitCrawl.