Red Edge, Des Hunt
Des Hunt was a science and technology teacher for many years, interspersed with periods of curriculum development both in New Zealand and overseas, and he's an author that seems need little or no introduction to readers in his native land. RED EDGE is, however, the first of his books I've been fortunate enough to read, pitched at a young audience, his aims of fostering interest in the natural world and children's surrounding obvious.
Obvious without being preachy or overblown I'd hasten to add, RED EDGE introduces many of it's themes and concepts through the eyes of the main young characters - Cassie Whelan and Quinn Fordson. The book abounds with references to the last devestating earthquake in Christchurch, the natural environment and science and technology (all particular interests of the author it seems), starting out with the obsessive runner Cassie's interactions with the wide-open spaces of the cleared "red-zone" around Christchurch, leading to the discovery of odd goings on in the Haunted House next door, culminating in some clever use of technology to solve the mysterious goings on in the garage next door.
Both Cassie and Quinn are really belieavable, strong characters in this story, and the mystery of the open can of cat food, leading to some some very odd discoveries and the unearthing of crimes that, it seems, are based on real events, really worked. There's considerable pace and engagement in the way the plot unfolds, whilst allowing for exploration of the effects of devastating natural disasters like the Christchurch earthquake have on the emotional wellbeing of everyone - but kids in particular.
Whilst RED EDGE is a really good book for the age group that it's obviously pitched at, there's quite a bit here for adult readers as well - not just the glimpses into the disrupted world of kids, but the issues of animal welfare, animal trafficking and what recovery after disaster can look like.
Cassi Whelan, aged 12, and her father, Mike, have recently moved into a repaired house in Avondale, on the edge of Christchurch’s Red Zone. Although only four when the earthquakes destroyed the city, Cassi’s memories still haunt her, affecting much of her life. She is an obsessive runner who worries incessantly about her weight; she also has a phobia about enclosed spaces, especially if there are raised shelves or hanging objects. The wide-open spaces of the cleared Red Zone suit her fine.
While out running on her first weekend, she meets Jim McLean, a retired reporter, who now spends much of his time fishing in the Avon river. He knows the neighbourhood well and gives her information about a broken-down house next to the Whelan’s place, one of a few houses in the area that are still vacant since being condemned after the February 2011 earthquake. It was owned by a Pandora Horton and is now locally known as the Haunted House. This began as a play on the name Horton but ends up having meaning because of strange happenings around the house and its garage. Some people even claim to have seen a ghost hanging out on the section late at night.
When Cassi investigates the property she finds a very large boy sitting on a pile of newspapers in an otherwise empty room. He is Quinn Fordson, a strange lad of Cassi’s age who lives on the other side of the Haunted House. Quinn shows Cassi a way to get into the undamaged garage, which he suggests might contain witches things such as bats and poisonous spiders. Cassi’s motivation to explore the garage is a recently opened can of cat food visible through a window. She has an interest in cats stretching back to a family pet that went missing after the 2010 earthquake.
Once inside the garage, Cassi doesn't find a cat, but she does find other creatures - ones that should never be kept in captivity. Thus begins a mystery-adventure that will challenge Cassi and Quinn more than the earthquakes that had previously shaped most aspects of their lives. On one side is Cassi, Quinn and Jim McLean; on the other are two criminals who have no thoughts for the well-being of anyone other than themselves.