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However Becky Manawatu’first novel Oh was originally released in 2019, readers might not have been surprised to see it hit new release shelves last March.

After its original publication by small New Zealand publishers Makaro Press, the book won the Jan Medlicott Acorn Award for Fiction, the MITOQ Award for Best First Fiction Book, as well as the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Mystery Novel. It was also widely appreciated by many readers. As a result, worldwide rights (apart from New Zealand, of course, which still belong to Makaro Press) were acquired by Scribe Publishing, allowing this superb new green edition of the book to catch on. in the world.

Oh (a te reo Maori word meaning to cry, howl, groan, moan, or howl, as well as an interjection expressing astonishment or distress) is the story of two brothers, Taukiri and Arama. The story begins with Taukiri, who is in her late teens, dropping off Ari (who is eight) with her Aunt Kat and Uncle Stu. Although he knows Aunt Kat will give Ari the motherly love he desperately needs after the boys’ parents die, the two brothers are suspicious of Uncle Stu who has a reputation for being violent. Afterwards, Taukiri leaves, believing it’s better for his brother that he isn’t around anymore.

Ari befriends a nearby farmer’s daughter, the tough but surprisingly girly Beth. The two are homeschooled together by Kat, until an initiative by local benefactors organizes a school bus to take them both to normal school. Beth is sometimes full of alarming violence (our first encounter with her involves the mercy killing of a baby rabbit who was attacked by birds) and she is obsessed with the movie Django Unchained. But, she is also a loyal friend and a stabilizing influence in Ari’s otherwise very unstable life. Beth also has a dog named Lupo, and the three form a trio to go on adventures. All the while, Ari wants Taukiri to come back for him.

Meanwhile, Taukiri has traveled to the city where he earns money by performing on the streets and briefly working in a factory. His friendship with a musician named Elliott and his cousin Megan, for whom Taukiri feels a strong attraction, brings him closer to the world of gang violence that killed his father and sent his mother into hiding – without him knowing anything about it. that.

Blending the perspectives of Ari, Taukiri and a woman named Jade who is related to them, Manawatu tells the story of this family fractured by gang violence; but also evokes a story of brotherhood and friendship overcoming dark times. It’s compelling and raw, and very readable.

Sometimes it reminded me of Trent Dalton Boy swallows the universe, render adult violence through the eyes of a child. The Taukiri and Arama sections are told in first person, conveying a sense of immediacy. The sections on Jade and Toko use the third person and take the reader back to events from the past. Although these sections are related, it takes the reader some time to figure out how.

In the last third of the book, a fourth point of view is also introduced in these other sections, using italics to make it seem like this person is talking to our characters without them being able to hear. While I’m not sure if this voice was strictly necessary, it added some context to events that were considered to be happening off the page. A sense of dramatic irony is lent by the limits of each character’s knowledge of what happens to others in their roles.

While violence in its many forms is a common thread throughout the book – gang violence, animal abuse, domestic abuse – there are also elements of beauty and sweetness that balance the book. Beth’s father, Tom, is a balm after the harshness of Uncle Stu and Jade’s gang friends at The House. Meanwhile, recurring images of birds, the ocean, and soft guitar music remind the reader that even in times of despair, love is still possible. The ocean provides a contradictory motive, particularly for Taukiri, who spends most of the novel driving with a surfboard on top of his car but too afraid to enter the ocean after surviving the crash of boat that took the lives of the boys’ parents.

Whereas Oh might have won detective writing awards, it’s not a typical crime novel and perhaps sits more comfortably in a contemporary or literary genre. The mystery to be solved is less of a whodunit, and more of solving the puzzle of this family, and how they fractured in the first place. There is no satisfactory resolution of the mentioned crimes, and justice is not really served. But there is something real about this novel, and these people, and the situations they find themselves in.

Read this book if you like great fiction and want to experience a powerful new voice from New Zealand.



Oh by Becky Manawatu is available now from Scribe Publications. Get your copy of Booktopia HERE.

Angela C. Hale