As a librarian, I have a dangerous habit of thinking of a topic and then checking out pretty much anything I can find on that topic in our library system. I’ve done this with C.S. Lewis, I’ve done it with Tolkien, I’ve done it with fairy tales, Norse mythology, Celtic history, owls, and so on and so on. Usually I just end up skimming what I get because of course I go overboard and get way more than I could ever read.
Recently, I did this with New Zealand. It’s not the first time I’ve done it so most of what was in our catalog I’ve already read. But this was new: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey.
The book opens with our seventeen year old heroine, Ellie Spencer, hungover. Not really a good start for me. Her best friend, Kevin, is sleeping on the floor, also hungover. Kevin and Ellie are both students at a prestigious boarding school in Christchurch, New Zealand. Kevin is part Maori and pretty much the star of the school. Ellie’s not. Ellie hasn’t really fit in that much since coming to the school about a year ago. Her only friend is Kevin and she’s not involved in much of anything but school. So when Kevin begs her to help with a theater production he’s involved in at a local college, she reluctantly agrees.
Meanwhile, Ellie’s crush, mysterious Mark, has been acting strange and sticking pretty close to Kevin. Also interesting is the gorgeous and mesmerizing woman who joins the play soon after Ellie does. What Ellie finds out about her and Mark will change her life forever.
Guardian of the Dead has a lot of Maori mythology in it. Which is fantastic because most of what I’ve been able to find on that topic has been rather dry and boring. But Ellie was what I really loved about this book. Despite the bad introduction, Ellie’s probably one of my favorite heroines that I’ve seen in a young adult novel. She’s been making some bad choices but that’s mainly because she’s still reeling from the “Cancer Year”, the year her mother had cancer and went through chemotherapy. She’s in a new school and a new city (her parents have taken some time off to travel the world since her mother has recovered, hence the boarding school). She’s tall. She’s also a little fat. Not obese, just the slight pudginess that comes from a former athlete who’s no longer doing much (I can relate). She makes bad decisions and she makes really, really good decisions. She’s a normal person.
Guardian of the Dead is creepy, funny, interesting, and fantastical. Highly recommended.