Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rock Steady by Joanne Macgregor #review

Title: Rock Steady
Author: Joanne Macgregor
Publisher: Protea Book House, 2013

Even though this is book two in what appears to be a series dealing with the adventures of friends who attend an exclusive girls’ boarding school up in the Drakensberg, Rock Steady can be read as a standalone adventure. From the get go, I must add that Joanne drew me into the story, told from the point of view of Samantha, who is attending Clifford House Private School for Girls on a scholarship. It goes without saying that she’s under a fair amount of pressure to perform academically, so when they get a new – and aptly named – maths and science teacher Mr Delmonico, that things begin to become unpleasant.

Sam, Jessie and Nomusa navigate their Grade 9 year with all the usual trials and tribulations – sports events, school outings, boys, bullies and dances – and the banter between the three friends comes off incredibly refreshing and natural. It’s not often that an author manages to express the sheer energy of teenagers, but Joanne totally convinced me that she’s secretly a teenager herself.

The main narrative arc in this story isn’t so much the girls’ school year, however, but also how the three friends get tangled in the doings of a nefarious gang of thieves intent on plundering South Africa’s cultural heritage. For those who don’t know, the Drakensberg is a region in South Africa that has some of the highest concentrations of ancient rock art, which not only faces natural threats thanks to gradual (and totally natural) environmental erosion, but also suffers thanks to human agents who deface or attempt to steal it.

Joanne deftly weaves in the main plot with the secondary plots in a way that doesn’t feel forced. She drops hints throughout that savvy readers may pick up on so that when the final confrontation occurs, it’s not completely left of field. Joanne’s teens are bubbly, sensitive and are possessed of a lively curiosity and sense of fun, who worry about their schoolwork, about boys, about issues at home. They feel real. Too often I’ve read YA fiction where the teens’ world seems to vanish into a boy-induced solipsist nightmare, where everything just revolves around the boy. Um, hello, teens do have genuine interests beyond boys (even if boys do feature quite high up on the menu, so to speak).

All in all, this is a fun read that I’ll happily recommend to anyone who’s got a bookish kidlet from the age of ten and older. Yes, there is – *gasp* – a kiss, but the romance elements are slight. The story focuses on the eventual altercation with rock art thieves and also weaves in a fair deal of cultural history related to the rock art without being heavy handed about it. Joanne’s writing gets a big thumbs up from yours truly for South African youth literature.

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