Unbelievable bullying, Keira Haig
Moon Boy, by Kathy Sutcliffe, explores a coastal New Zealand town through the eyes of 16-year-old wannabe-receptionist Kat Bell. I’m guessing this novel has a time-span of about a year (start to finish), and in that year Kat experiences bullying, family changes, loneliness and more.
I truly had no idea what this book was about when I chose it. I had never even heard of the novel before. I picked it up and proceeded to read this blurb: “Kat and Eru are new in town and trying to find their way. Not easy when her mum’s in a relationship with his mum, and he’s not your usual sort of guy: Māori with the palest skin and blonde dreads and – strangest of all – no ears. More moon than boy…” Okay, I thought to myself. Sounds entertaining, hopefully?
And I wasn’t disappointed – I’ll tell you that. I read it in one day. (I was sick at home. Otherwise, it would likely have taken me a few days longer.) In this book, there isn’t a heap of action, but it is well-paced and hard to put down.
Eru moves in with Kat and her mother because (as stated in the blurb) his mum is dating Kat’s mum. He is a very tall Māori boy with pale skin, blue eyes, and long blonde dreadlocks; he gives off a space-y moon vibe, hence the name of the book. Strangest of all are his prosthetic ears that he can’t hear without. Eru immediately becomes an overachieving and well-liked student, leading Kapa Haka performances at their high school and getting into the first 15 rugby team. He starts dating Dana Haas, a popular girl who bullies Kat.
Kat is quiet and reserved. She spends her lunchtimes volunteering as a receptionist in the school administration office and helping out in the school garden. She is a hard worker and kind, but struggles to make friends because she isn’t friendly or socially outgoing. At first, she’s jealous of Eru who receives so much recognition and attention, but she comes around to liking him a lot. Throughout the book, she goes through some poor mental health – mainly brought about by Dana’s intensive bullying and family issues.
The book is a coming-of-age story, largely about suffering from bullying and the relationship between Kat and her stepbrother Eru. The main themes are bullying, Māori/New Zealand culture, romance, and family. A pretty classic YA novel – nearly 300 pages long and told all in first person from Kat’s point of view. It includes a small amount of dialogue in te reo Māori, which I enjoyed reading and found refreshing.
I must admit, I find it quite difficult to really connect or sympathise with Kat. It’s hard to like her because, apart from being a massive suck-up – sorry, but it’s true – she doesn’t have a lot of personality; she isn’t a very likeable person. Kat frequently acts really precious and, at times, I couldn’t understand why Eru was being so kind to her when she treats him badly most of the time.
Another issue I have with the book was Dana’s bullying method. While Dana actually is a believable character, her actions are definitely not – you can totally tell that this was written by someone who had no idea what teenagers are like these days. If I read the line “fat, ugly b*tch” one more time I would likely punch myself in the face. Teenagers just don’t do that kind of thing. Especially year 12s. Some of Dana’s actions are more believable than others – for instance, texting Kat from Wade’s phone, asking Kat to the movies when Wade actually went with another girl. As awfully cruel as that is, it is much more realistic than constantly telling Kat that she was useless and no-one liked her.
Sutcliffe is good at creating other characters, though, from Dana, who is cruel but sweet-talking, to Kat’s Mum’s girlfriend Mars, who is chilled out and lovely. I like that the characters were ethnically diverse, and there were also gay characters without it being a big deal or the focus of the book. The setting of the beach and cafe is great and gives beautiful, strong imagery. I could practically smell Mars’s rewena bread and blueberry muffins from my room where I read the book. The town is small and coastal, with a very calming but slightly isolated vibe. It is the perfect setting for this book.
Overall, Moon Boy is a good, quick read that encapsulates New Zealand everyday-ness nicely, with a happy but not overly romanticised ending.
Keira Haig is 13 and attends Wellington High School.