Guardian of the Dead, by Karen Healey

I opened my eyes.
My legs were bound and my head ached. There was one dark moment of disorientation before the bad-dream fog abruptly lifted and I woke up all the way and rolled to smack the shrilling alarm.
I was exactly where I was supposed to be: in my tiny room, lumpy pillow over my head and thick maroon duvet wrapped around my legs. I disentangled myself and kicked the duvet away. The muffled tinkling as it slithered off the foot of the bed reminded me that Kevin and I had stored the empty beer cans there.
Well, that explained the headache.

Ellie Spencer has opted to study her last year of school in Christchurch after her parents head off for a year travelling. She had other options and while she understands their need to travel after ‘Mum’s Cancer Year’, she not really sure why she chose Christchurch, grey wintery Christchurch. Ellie is tall, a black belt in tae kwon do but has little self confidence. Luckily she has made one close friend, Kevin, although his friend Iris is not so welcoming. Ellie is pulled in to help choreograph the fight sequences for the local university play Iris is directing, but not before she develops a crush on Mark. That’s when things become suddenly much more confusing, and Ellie struggles to know what’s real and what is magic. Before she knows what’s happening, she’s pulled into a battle way beyond her understanding.

Ellie seems like a normal teenager, living away from home, finding her way through the freedoms and otherwise of her new life. She tells her story with a self-deprecation and lack of confidence of many teenagers, but it’s clear that whether she knows or not, whether she uses it or not, she has a quiet strength. And it’s not just the tae kwon do skills. Karen Healey uses Maori mythology to bring to life characters full of magic and menace. Ellie struggles to know who she is, who she can trust, in an escalating battle where there’s no time to ‘wait and see’. Maori creation stories come to life in this fantasy which melds reality with fantasy in a gripping adventure. Recommended for mid- to upper-secondary readers.

Guardian of the Dead

Guardian of the Dead, Karen Healey
Allen & Unwin 2010
ISBN: 9781741758801

Reviewed by Claire Saxby Children’s book author.

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