Teen Book Nook: Review of ‘New Guinea Moon’

I confess that I stumbled across this book by chance and that I took it home with me more because I was bored and liked the peachy cover and less because of the vague and somewhat cliché back summary. But I will also admit that I started to read and finished the book in one sitting because I genuinely enjoyed it.

Australian author Kate Constable’s novel, New Guinea Moon is not at all about the moon. It does, however, take place in New Guinea, on the eve of the country’s independence from Australian colonialism in the winter of 1974. But let it be stressed that this book is not a historical account regarding the independence movement either.

Instead, readers are introduced to 16-year-old Julie, who is visiting her father, Tony, for the first time in thirteen years. After tensions boil over with her mother, Julie is both excited and nervous when she goes from Melbourne to New Guinea to meet him. Shy but modest, Tony welcomes her and his “island family” immediately does so as well. There is his boss, Allan ‘Curry’ Crabtree, and his rambunctious but close-knit family. Tony’s best friend, Andy, and his wife, Teddie, are newlyweds who take Julie into their arms a heartbeat. Julie cannot help it but appreciate their warmness.

Then she falls in love. First the breathtaking country steals her heart with its relaxed, verdant, and lush personality. Then there is Simon, the local boy at the coffee plantation whose smile makes her world a little brighter. And who could forget about the simple but beautiful lifestyle of the indigenous people?

However, beneath the light and happiness, Julie is introduced to the ever-present and ugly stigmatism that exists against the natives of the island. Despite the new and rising independence of Papua New Guinea, the white Europeans — the offspring of the original colonizers — are still treated as superiors who hire servants and exercise strict segregation against the indigenous people. But when tragedy strikes, paradise turns out to be purgatory and Julie must undergo the hardest adversity that will strain the strength of her family ties and her own willpower.

This book is not only just a coming-of-age story for Julie but it also captures the birth of a new nation in a new era through highlighting with the social dilemmas that come with obtaining independence and erasing the ties of colonization. Interestingly, in a way, the story is also the author’s since Kate Constable grew up in Papua New Guinea as well, where her father worked as a charter pilot — much like Julie’s father.

As a result, Constable makes it difficult for readers not to fall in love with the place she adores so much. She enriches every element of the New Guinean culture beautifully and provides a full 360 degree birds-eye view of the island. From the tropical beaches to the rag-tag chaos that surrounds the primitive marketplace, there is a culture shock in every page.

Julie is a strong character and it is difficult not to be immersed in her thoughts and her character. Her sympathy with the natives, her budding relationship with her father, and her brave face in the midst of hardship are admirable. While her personality matches the lightheartedness of this book, the simplicity makes her story and her words all the more elegant and memorable.

Katie Tsui is a junior at Darien High School and writes bi-monthly young adult book reviews for The Darien Times. She enjoys reading and is always looking forward to new book recommendations from friends. She likes to travel, paint and play the piano.

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