Below by David Hill

David Hill is an incredibly versatile writer. Over the years he has written historical fiction, sci-fi, adventure stories and one of the best New Zealand novels for children, See Ya Simon. David Hill’s latest book, Below, is an edge-of-your-seat survival story that is going to be a winner with kids.

Liam and Imogen really don’t get on. Liam’s dad is a tunneler, helping to build a new road tunnel through the mountain, and Liam loves the chance to visit his dad at work. He gets to know the others working on the tunnel and see the tunnel boring machines or TBMs up close. Imogen and her family are strongly against the tunnel, believing that it will harm the environment and disturb the wildlife. Liam is determined to show Imogen that she is wrong and that the tunnel will be a good thing. Stealing his dad’s keys, Liam arranges to meet Imogen at the entrance to the tunnel one night and give her a tour. However, while they are exploring the tunnel and checking out the TBM, part of the tunnel collapses, trapping them inside. Not wanting his dad to truly know where he was, both Liam and Imogen lied about where they were going that night, and so nobody knows that they are trapped in the tunnel. As hours and then days pass, more parts of the tunnel collapse and their hope of being rescued dwindles. Liam and Imogen will have to try and keep themselves alive, with the few supplies they do have and hope that Liam’s dad figures out where they are.

Below is a real nail-biting, hold-your-breath kind of read. You are hanging on every one of David Hill’s sentences, hoping that Liam and Imogen will make it out alive. You can’t help but put yourself in the characters’ shoes and think about how you would cope in their situation (not well at all, in my case). The first part of the book is pretty tense, with the middle part slowing the pace down, but also making you feel the sense of timelessness that the characters are feeling. There is not a lot going on in this middle section of the story, but this fits with the fact that Liam and Imogen are mostly just sleeping and eating what little food they have and they have no real sense of time passing. The last quarter of the book ramps up the suspense, and just when everything seems like it’s looking up, David Hill throws another twist in. I didn’t stop reading until I knew how it ended.

Penguin Random House NZ have done an amazing job of the cover of Below! The cover screams ‘READ ME!’ and perfectly captures the tension of the story. One of the best NZ covers for children’s fiction that I’ve seen for ages.

I will be recommending Below to all of my Year 5-8 kids and it’s going to be such an easy book to sell to them. It would be an amazing read aloud too, especially for Year 7/8s. I know they would be begging for just one more chapter.

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