There are a lot of good things going on in The Crossing, even special things. Mandy Hager‘s prose is solid, aimed well at her YA audience and very readable. The content is fast-paced, especially at the beginning, making the book easy to get into and pique curiosity about the world, time and people the author has created. It also has some good messages about critical thinking with regards to abuse of power in society.
I read this book after a recommendation from a student, who had recently enjoyed a visit from Mandy Hager at our local Library. With the exception of The Hunger Games, it has been a long time since I have read any dystopian fiction, particularly YA. On the back of the book, Margaret Mahy is quoted, comparing The Crossing to George Orwell’s 1984. However, it didn’t remind me of Orwell as much as it did Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in its focus on the use and abuse of women as breeders.
My rating of The Crossing may have been higher if I was genuinely interested in dystopian fiction which was something that appealed to me more when I was younger. This book has all the elements that would appeal to a younger reader of this genre – a character who must awaken to the illusions that have been presented to her in her formative years; a bleak future that can only avoided by escape, outright rebellion, or death; and enough connections to be drawn between this society and ours.
One thing that wore on me for the first 3/4 of the book was the persistent use of the terrifying quotes from the Bible. I realise there was purpose in this – hearing these refrains used so often in such a manner helps the reader get a sense of what it must be like for these people to live with this. However, it was good to see the author develop the theme into (almost) a real crisis of faith for Maryam, who knows the message of love which is also found in Scripture, although she is rarely seeing this message exhibited in her world. Hushai is a good character who adds to this dilemma.
Hushai may have been the one character I liked. Perhaps because the story starts with such good, page-turning sequences, I found that I never connected with Maryam as a character and found it hard to identify any reasons why she should be the one to challenge the powers-that-be. Hushai is our main window into this part of her character.
The author explains in her “Author’s Note” that “the native language spoken in Onewere is derived from Gilbertise, the traditional language of Kiribati. I was surprised to read this as the words resemble Te Reo Maori as well, which I thought gave the book a feel of New Zealand, or at least suggested that the authorship is Kiwi.
I would recommend this book for my students, especially as they may connect better than I did with the dystopian theme and the young female heroin.
Antony Millen is a Canadian living and writing in New Zealand and the author of Redeeming Brother Murrihy: The River to Hiruharama and Te Kauhanga: A Tale of Space(s).