New Guinea Moon
by Kate Constable
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Published: March 1st 2013
Rating: Up and down
New Guinea Moon is the story of a sixteen-year-old Australian girl who moved to New Guinea to live with her bush pilot father in the 1970’s. I am a sucker for books with interesting settings and I have never read a book set in New Guinea before. I was also interested because it was a book about an expat which isn’t all that common. Usually, if the main character is foreign then he or she is on a vacation. Finding books with this representation is pretty rare and since 95% of my students are expats I am always on the hunt for them.
The plot and characterization were okay. The point of the book was a bit muddled. There is an awful lot that happens but I never really figured out the driving point or theme of the book. Julie isn’t as likable as she should be. She sort of allows herself to fall into a relationship because she wants to have a boyfriend rather than because she really likes the guy, puts herself in ridiculously stupid and dangerous situations, and turns a blind eye to all kinds of racist remarks.
Just as a warning: there is a whole hell of a lot of racism in this book. The racism is pretty realistically depicted which means that it is both subtle and overt. Colonialism, while interesting from a distance, was pretty damn terrible. The way that the white people talk to and about the people of New Guinea is horrifying. I know that in the 1970’s it would have been insanely entrenched but I would have liked some more indication that Julie saw it as more of a problem. She did occasionally notice inequality but mostly when she was personally being inconvenienced by it.
The writing felt very Australian to me. Does that make sense? It is almost as if I had to mentally read it with the accent for it to scan right. If I was reading it in my own accent it started to sound off. Does this at all make sense or an I coming across insane?
It is easy to tell that the author had actually been an expat. She definitely gets the weird overly privileged but also super whiny personalities that abound. As an expat, I can tell you that I see entitlement become a way of life all the time. You can also tell that she lived in New Guinea. The descriptions of Julie’s new home are really accurate. My favorite parts of the book were both the description of Julie going about the country and the descriptions of her flights in a small plane over New Guinea. There is also an undercurrent of violence that seems realistic especially for that time. Expats in New Guinea at this time certainly felt threatened all the time. I am glad that the author chose to set it at this time and not make it a contemporary novel. I think that this is the New Guinea that she is familiar with and would have written about no matter how much had changed. There is a slight hint of wistful nostalgia to the novel and especially to the descriptions that I enjoyed. It gave it that “the summer that everything (but especially I) changed” vibe.
New Guinea Moon was a very quick read. I read the bulk of it on a three-hour plane journey. The pacing is quite fast and the writing is descriptive enough to keep your interest. Julie might not be likable but for the most part, she was interesting. You might want to read this book if you have an interest in the fall of colonialism, expats, or traveling through fiction.
Julie has grown up not knowing her father, with just the occasional Christmas card and the knowledge that he flies planes for a charter company in New Guinea. When she comes to stay with him one long summer, she learns to appreciate not only her long-lost father and his love of flying, but also New Guinea itself and the people she meets.
An awkward romance with a young expat contrasts with her growing attraction to the son of a local coffee plantation owner. And, left to her own devices much of the time, Julie learns to rely on herself and gain her own independence. A tragedy and then a mystery leave her reeling, but force her to evaluate what she really wants out of life.