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Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
Review by Gayle Surrette
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780316044301
Date: 01 April 2010 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Eleanor "Ellie" Spencer has been sent to boarding school on New Zealand's South Island as her parents take a well deserved vacation celebrating her mother's recovery from cancer. School is okay but Ellie isn't used to so many rules and seems to be majoring in getting in trouble. She made friends with Kevin almost immediately after she arrived and while they'd never met before they've become best friends. Of course, her parents would be nervous if they learned that the area around the school is experiencing a rash of murders that have been called the "Eyelash Murders". Soon, Ellie learns that there's more going on than murder, the old myths have come alive and want to return the island to the old ways.

It's hard to know what to say about a book that is so different. Healey uses the stories of the Maori and Celtic beliefs, mixed liberally with teenagers trying to come to grips with their identity as Maori and modern westerners in a technological society that still has a rich oral history that has little in common with western mythology or religion. Ellie's heritage places her between the two worlds -- yet, it's up to her to save the world.

Part school days and part urban fantasy, Guardian of the Dead uses rich language, imagery, and deft story telling to pull the reader into the story and keep them turning the pages to find out what happens next. As a reader not at all familiar with the culture and history of the Maori beyond the merest skimming of the surface via movies such as Whale Rider, I didn't know what to expect. However, the story is rich and the struggle of the major characters to make sense of what is happening around them is compelling.

There's little of the carping on about it's not my problem and why me -- instead, Ellie and her friends deal with the problem as it is. Each of them having to come to grips with who they are what kind of person they want to be. No matter what the story or the fantasy underpinnings, it's a story of teenagers making the decisions that are going to guide them all their lives. Finding out who you are is probably the hardest thing young people have to deal with and they do it while worrying about grades, parents and their rules, gaining and keeping friends, and discovering what they want to do with their lives.

Karen Healey has written a spellbinding urban fantasy and a thrilling coming of age story. I look forward to reading more by this author.

The book also contains and Afterword about the research used as background for the story and a glossary of the terms used.

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