This novel works on many levels. It is a meditation on the nature of friendship and relationships; a description of life in a New Zealand small town in the late 1960s; a powerful exploration of the themes of war, injustice and prejudice (racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism and more); and a mystery story. Surprisingly, with all that going on, it is also a great read.
The story is told from the perspective of the main character, Callum Gow, a rather naive young teenager, who is trying to make sense of his complex world. It begins with his isolation from the two people he cares about the most: his best friend Michael and his grandfather.
He gets into trouble at his school after he stamps out his best friend’s initials on the pavement with chalk dust from the blackboard dusters. The school sees it as a form of defacement and his best friend is embarrassed because of the “unspoken code between boys that displays of affection are not permitted”. His father gets his grandfather sectioned and bundled off to a rest home, so that he can’t interfere in the family business and Callum struggles to get access to him.
There is also the underlying puzzle of Ralph, his grandfather’s best friend in the war. Who was he and why does his grandfather talk to his photo everyday? All is revealed in the last few pages of the book, when finally Callum gets to present his history speech.
Title: The History Speech
Author: Mark Sweet
Publisher: Huia Publishers
Date of Publication: 2019
Age Range: Young Adult
Reviewer: Carola Crawford, English teacher, Karanga Mai Young Parents’ College
How are you recommending this book: Highly Recommended
What’s the book’s opening sentence? “His mother doesn't see the pack of boys waiting for him, or hear the voice call out, '’You're in trouble, Gow. Big trouble.’”
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