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Unlock the secrets in junior and YA fiction — NZCYA 2021

July 20th, 2021 By Anne Dickson

Secrets are at the heart of the junior and young adult (YA) fiction finalists for the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (NZCYA), enticing curious and imaginative young minds to unravel their mysteries.

This post — one of a series of reviews

This blog post is one of a series reviewing books on the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (NZCYA) shortlist in the run-up to the announcement of the award winners on 11 August.

2 posters for NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults 2021 finalists — Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction and Young Adult Fiction Award. Both show finalists' book covers and #NZCYA.
2021 NZCYA junior and young adult fiction finalists. Image credit: New Zealand Book Awards Trust.

Definition: A secret

  1. Something kept hidden or unexplained: mystery.
  2. Something kept from the knowledge of others or shared only confidentially with a few.
  3. A method, formula, or process used in an art or operation and divulged only to those of one's own company or craft: trade secret.
  4. Secrets (plural): the practices or knowledge making up the shared discipline or culture of an esoteric society.

Source: Merriam-Webster

Secrets are often at the heart of fiction. From the Secret Seven through to Agatha Christie, the adventure of trying to decipher the code, unlock the door, guess what happens next, and the joy of discovery is at the core of the enjoyment of reading for many.

Never has this been more evident than with the 2021 NZCYA finalists in the Young Adult Fiction and Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction categories. All contain secrets of some sort for the curious and imaginative minds to unravel.

The shortlists

Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction

Across the Risen Sea

Across the Risen Sea by Bren McDibble (Allen & Unwin) takes us into the future where climate change has had a massive impact. Strangers arriving on Neoma’s small island to build a strange structure set off a series of events as the almost technology-free community wonders what is happening. With a fair splash of bravery, our adventurous protagonist, Neoma, sails off to rescue her friend and discover the mystery of the Valley of the Sun, encountering colourful characters on her way.

Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature From the Sea

What would you do if you discovered a ponaturi (mermaid) on your local beach? How would you keep it a secret? And why has she chosen Charlie to be her kaitiaki? In Charlie Tangaroa and the Creature From the Sea (illustrated by Phoebe Morris, Huia Publishers), Tania Roxborogh has given us a fast-paced adventure, firmly grounded in Aotearoa and te ao Māori. With a dash of environmentalism, this tale is sure to spark the curiosity of young readers.

Red Edge

Environmental issues are also a key theme in Des Hunt’s Red Edge (Scholastic New Zealand). Set in post-earthquake Christchurch, the unlikely pair Cassi and Quinn are intrigued by the strange goings-on at the condemned house next door. They are extremely innovative as they work out what's really happening and, with the help of some other great characters (watch out for the towie and the one-legged whitebaiter), try to stop the crime. This would make a great read-aloud.

The Inkberg Enigma

Miro and Sia uncover a secret on the first day they meet in Jonathan King’s debut The Inkberg Enigma (Gecko Press). Curiosity is once again the driving force as Miro leaves the adventures in his books for a real adventure. He and Sia try to solve the mystery of an ill-fated Antarctic expedition, a secret society, and a mysterious old lady in the castle overlooking the town. A graphic novel that is a lot of fun.

The Tunnel of Dreams

Abandoned houses lend themselves to curious young minds and great children’s fiction. The Tunnel of Dreams (Text Publishing) by Bernard Beckett begins when twins Stefan and Arlo discover a young girl hiding in an abandoned house at the end of their street. She asks a favour of them and so, quite unexpectedly, they are thrown headfirst into a quest where only their secret twin magic and the power of friendship may be able to save them.

Young Adult Fiction Award

Draw Me a Hero

Draw Me a Hero (Lasavia Publishing) has a real mystery at its heart because you always feel there is something strange about Bailey. Is he really who he says he is? Despite their friendship growing as they collaborate on a graphic novel, Jane isn’t quite sure. Author N.K. Ashworth nails this tale, which has more than one twist in it.

Fire's Caress

Fire’s Caress (OneTree House) is the latest novel from the Telesā world created by Lani Wendt Young. Teuila returns to Samoa for the first time since she left as a teenager, to confront not only the secrets and people from her past but also what her future may look like. It is a powerful weaving together of greed, relationships, the environment, and Samoan mythology.

Katipo Joe: Spycraft

Katipo Joe: Spycraft by Brian Falkner (Scholastic New Zealand) picks up where Blitzkrieg left off. Joe is deep behind enemy lines in Germany, competing with a group of other teenagers for a lead role in a propaganda movie, or at least that’s what they're led to believe. Spies and secrets go hand in hand as the author keeps the pages turning with a mix of action and divided loyalties, so you are never quite sure who to trust.

The King's Nightingale

In Sherryl Jordan’s fantasy The King’s Nightingale (Scholastic New Zealand), Elowen and her brother are sold into slavery separately. Elowen is trapped in two cages, one of obedience and sometimes cruelty (depending on the master) and the other of her own making with her resolve to find her brother and escape. The latter is a secret she keeps close as she navigates the new world she lives in, making mistakes and winning friends as she goes.

The Pōrangi Boy

Also nominated as Best First Book, The Pōrangi Boy (Huia Publishers) is the debut novel from journalist Shilo Kino. People think Niko and his koro are crazy for their belief in Taukere, the local taniwha. This is such an authentic story of family relationships, storytelling in families, and activism in the community, as Niko instigates a protest against the building of a jail on sacred land. There are hidden agendas to be uncovered and light is also shed on topical issues such as unconscious (and conscious) racism.

Sparking reading for pleasure

The finalists in this year’s NZCYA awards have more to them than just secrets — there's curiosity and the joy of discovery. That journey and joy is part of what sparks the pleasure of reading for our tamariki and rangatahi.

The surprise as you turn the page, or satisfaction if you've solved the mystery in your own head is what keeps readers coming back.

This quote from movie-maker Ira Sachs applies just as much to books as it does to film.

Secrets make for good drama and revealing the hidden truths and contradictions of life is, for me, one of the most exciting aspects of making movies.

Read more

Children’s and young adult (YA) literature — explore strategies to evaluate and promote it to engage students in reading.

Engaging teens with reading

Tween readers — keeping them motivated

Lending service — borrow these NZCYA finalists and other great books from us.

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