The Whale Rider

The Whale Rider, by Witi Ihimaera

I was pretty excited when I spotted this novel on the donation table; it's currently not that easy to find in the US.   It's also shorter than I expected!  This cover make it look kind of like a kid's book but I would say that it is maybe more YA.  It's one of those novels that kind of defies age categories, really.

The story is told in two interlocking parts: one side is mythic, about the far past and about the whales.  The other is narrated by a young Maori man, and it's really about his niece, Kahu.  She is the first-born of her generation, and the family patriarch, Koro, is extremely displeased, because he expects a boy to be the chief and carry on the family heritage -- they are descended from the legendary whale rider.  Kahu adores Koro, and spends her childhood following him around, bouyantly ignoring his indifference.

 When an entire pod of whales beaches near the village, Koro believes that it's a watershed moment for his family.  If the whales can be saved and persuaded to go back to the sea, it will be a new birth for the humans of Wharanga too.  If they can't, it will be the end.  But the ancient bull whale that leads this pod misses his wonderful rider.  Is there anyone to take his place?

It's a beautifully crafted novel, and I enjoyed every bit.

A film was made in 2002, and I'd like to watch it.  They made Kahu older (which makes sense; the novel takes her from infancy to maybe 10 or so, and they would have needed five or six actresses), and this film seems to have more martial arts than the story does (which is none).  Looks pretty good, yeah?  It won an award at Sundance.


  1. I remember the film as beautiful and quite moving. The books sounds different enough to be worth reading, too. Luckily my library has both book and film! Thanks for this review!

  2. I'm going to check the library for this anyway...maybe I'll get lucky. I could read it to my younger ones, and then see if we can find the movie.

  3. P.S. I was able to get both the book and audio of this...and later, we can order a copy of the movie through our library. I'm SHOCKED, I tell ya!

  4. This might be a good novel to follow the ARC I recently started -- SEA PEOPLE by Christina Thompson. It's a history coming out next month about the Polynesians and all of the theories and experiments related to their ocean travels. I bet I'll be in a mood for Polynesian lit after I finish!

  5. Indeed, this would be the PERFECT followup! I won't tell you more, I wouldn't want to spoil anything, but you should definitely plan on it. :)


Post a Comment

I'd love to know what you think, so please comment!

Popular posts from this blog

The Four Ages of Poetry

Ozathon #1: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz