I’ve only read a handful of books set in my home town of Christchurch. James Norcliffe’s Under the Rotunda was read to me at primary school and it stuck with me because I recognised the places that the characters went to. Recent kids books set here have focused on our earthquakes, including the wonderful Canterbury Quake by my good friend and fellow school librarian, Desna Wallace. Des Hunt’s latest book, Red Edge, has just been released and this story is set in Christchurch in the present day, a decade since the earthquakes. Red Edge really resonated with me and it feels like one of Des’ best books yet.
Cassi Whelan has just moved to a new house, close to the Red Zone in Christchurch, the area of cleared land that was once full of houses and streets. Cassi has moved houses eight times since the September 2010 earthquakes but she’s hoping this will be the last time. She lives next door to an abandoned house that is known as the Haunted House. However, with the help of her new friend and neighbour, Quinn, they discover that it’s not ghosts they should be worried about. Dodgy people are visiting the garage next door, there are wetas crawling around in there and large amounts of money appear in the letterbox. Cassi and Quinn know that something illegal is going on and they’re going to find out the truth. When they do discover what is happening they know it is up to them to stop it and bring the criminals to justice.
Red Edge had me on the edge of my seat the whole way through and I couldn’t stop until I knew how it all ended. Des Hunt really knows how to tell a story that draws you in immediately and keeps you furiously turning the pages. It’s fast-paced and some parts are quite nail-biting, especially in the second half of the book. Des makes you worry for his characters and hope that they can bring the bad guys down.
As someone who has lived in Christchurch my whole life I thought Des really knew my city. He doesn’t live here but it feels like he has driven the streets and knows the layout. He has clearly done his research. He has captured what it is like to live in this city and how years of earthquakes have affected us all. I’ve lived in the area where much of the story is set so I could picture everything so clearly.
The characters felt very real, from Cassi and Quinn to Lou and Raven. Cassi and Quinn are kids who were quite young at the time of the first earthquakes but it’s clear to see how they have affected their lives. Both Quinn and Cassi share their experiences of the September and February earthquakes and this part of the story made me choke up because their stories felt so real. Cassi prefers to be out in the open, running through the Red Zone because she knows that nothing can really fall on her if there is another big quake. She also sleepwalks which Quinn thinks might be tied to her cat running away during the earthquakes. Quinn is the target of vicious cyber bullying and the affect of this shows in his character. He is initially untrusting of Cassi, especially when it comes to her needing to text or call him. One of the girls at school has previously sent horrible texts to him and this starts up again after an incident at school. The adult characters in the story are wonderful too, especially Jim Maclean the ex-reporter, and Matiu the tow-trucker driver, who made me laugh every time. Des Hunt writes great villains and Lou and Raven are no exception. They’re nasty and sneaky and prepared to do anything to get their way.
Red Edge would make a fantastic read aloud for Years 7-9. It is a story that hooks readers straight away and keeps the tension high. This is New Zealand fiction for kids at its very best!