The Whale Rider
The Whale Rider Witi Ihimaera Pages: 150 First published: 1978
The book: Kahu, an eight-year-old Maori girl, adores her great-grandfather, Koro Apirana, but he pays her little attention. Her great-grandfather is chief of the Whangara, who are descendants of a legendary whale rider. The role of chief is always passed onto a male, but there is no male heir, only Kahu. Koro Apirana has no use for Kahu, and is searching outside the family for a male who can become chief.
Kahu battles with her grandfather for love and fights for her own identity.You might like it because: It’s an inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to fulfill her destiny and challenge traditional gender roles. Ihimaera provides the reader with a glimpse into modern Maori life in New Zealand.
What did other people say?
“Ihimaera is at his best in depicting the bonds among the family members, but his use of symbols can be heavy-handed and passages focusing on the now-ancient whale may seem slow-moving.” – Publishers Weekly
Awards & Recognition:
Nielsen BookData New Zealand Booksellers’ Choice Award
How quickly will you get into the book? The first 12 pages set up the legend of the whale rider. They are written in a style that, one imagines, might have been used in the past to tell ancient tales, so they felt a bit slow and sluggish. After that, the story picked up and I became fully engaged.
You might not like it because: Ihimaera uses quite a lot of Maori words, which create a sense of both place and the people you are reading about, but referencing the back pages of the book for their meaning might irritate some readers.
It’s a story about everyday people leading their lives, albeit focused on a very special girl, so the drama is mostly about the family. Things move forward slowly as they mostly do in real life.
What might you read next?
Cross to a neighboring country, Australia, and read a story about the indigenous people there: Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, by Doris Pilkington and Nugi Garimara.
Or, read another book set in New Zealand: The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.
Alternatively, read about people trying to save whales: The Whale Warriors, by Peter Heller.
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