From Publishers Weekly
A promising though ultimately overwrought portrayal of the small rebellions and crises of disillusionment that constitute a young narrator's coming-of-age unfolds against an ominous backdrop of war in Jones's latest. When the conflict between the natives and the invading redskin soldiers erupts on an unnamed tropical island in the early 1990s, 13-year-old Matilda Laimo and her mother, Dolores, are unified with the rest of their village in their efforts for survival. Amid the chaos, Mr. Watts, the only white local (he is married to a native), offers to fill in as the children's schoolteacher and teaches from Dickens's Great Expectations
. The precocious Matilda, who forms a strong attachment to the novel's hero, Pip, uses the teachings as escapism, which rankles Dolores, who considers her daughter's fixation blasphemous. With a mixture of thrill and unease, Matilda discovers independent thought, and Jones captures the intricate, emotionally loaded evolution of the mother-daughter relationship. Jones (The Book of Fame
) presents a carefully laid groundwork in the tense interactions between Matilda, Dolores and Mr. Watts, but the extreme violence toward the end of the novel doesn't quite work. Jones's prose is faultless, however, and the story is innovative enough to overcome the misplayed tragedy. (July)
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*Starred Review* This prizewinning novel by New Zealand author Jones is an eloquent homage to the power of storytelling. Thirteen-year-old Matilda is at a loss to understand the violence that has torn apart her tropical island. Her village, caught in the cross fire of the conflict between government troops and local armed rebels, has lost its teachers. The only white man to stay behind, the eccentric Mr. Watts, married to a local woman who is generally thought to be mad, takes over the post as teacher and begins to read to the class from his favorite novel, Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. Initially flummoxed by the meanings of such alien words as frost and moors, Matilda and her classmates soon become entirely riveted by the story and identify so heavily with the orphan Pip that Victorian England becomes more real to them than their own hometown. Provided with firsthand evidence of the power of imagination, Matilda increasingly sees it as a way to survive and even thrive amid the chaos of civil war. The accessible narrative, with its direct and graceful prose, belies the sophistication of its telling as Jones addresses head-on the effects of imperialism and the redemptive power of art. Wilkinson, Joanne
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