Review of Mandy Hager's prize-winning Singing Home the Whale
This is a lyrical novel that stands alongside Witi Ihimaera's The Whale Rider and Joy Cowley's The Silent One. Through music and grief, it unites a teenage boy and a baby orca in a novel of hope and promise that harshly criticises humanity's attitudes to the environment, making it one of the most valuable young adult novels I have read for some time.
Will has been scarred by humiliation on YouTube, and Min has been separated from his pod after seeing his mother killed by whalers and her body hauled on to a mother ship and dismembered. Will seeks solace in sailing and singing. Min hears his cry, responds with whistles and clicks, draws alongside Will's yacht and needs the comforting touch of Will on his fins and body. It is a union of two souls that will last a lifetime.
Mandy Hager doesn't muck around, and through Min we learn of the culture of the whales and how the Hungry Ones slaughtered the whales in the Days of Blood.
There is the introduction of Bruce, a violent and domineering salmon farm owner who epitomises the worst of humanity's attitudes to the natural environment. Conflict soon draws in the local marae, the Department of Fisheries and the police.
The adventure is realistic, the relationship between orca and boy is believable, and the culture of the whales is stunningly moving.
It is not just environmental issues that Hager attacks in this novel.
She is equally harsh on the culture of humiliation that surrounds social media.
It is the whale, whose life has been wrecked by humans, that brings Will back. This is a powerful, finely tuned novel for the young that should be read in Norway and Japan, and by those who push reality TV at our young people.