This is the latest offering from the fantastic New Zealand author, Mary-anne Scott. Based on a rural New Zealand sheep farm, the story centres on the protagonist, Phil, struggling to come to grips with a sick dad and being sent away to stay with a family friend means he has to deal with a whole new experience in an area that is foreign to him. It also doesn’t help that he wears glasses. Set at odds against the station manager, Chopper, who doesn’t take kindly to having another (pretty hopeless) person on the farm, Phil has to forge his own way in pretty trying circumstances.
A lot of the book follows a similar trajectory to real events in the lives of some of the writer’s family including the star of the book, Blue - a heading dog with eyes of two different colours. One fateful day, Blue ends up falling into a large sink hole in the ground, or Tomo, and the focus of the narrative becomes an energetic effort to retrieve poor, stuck Blue.
Falling into the Tomo is clearly a stressful and worrying situation, but it is set with the backdrop of a number of overarching ideas that really show the dynamics of the many complex relationships in the family. The sick father, the stoic mother, the recalcitrant siblings, the struggle that Phil has to find his place in it all.
Enter Emara, the step daughter of Chopper, who really has a separate view of how things should be done. Her more environmentally savvy approach doesn’t fit with the traditional ways and this causes conflict throughout. It is through her help that Phil is able to begin the process of saving Blue and finding his place, despite his hesitations.
Scott’s real gift is the use of the narrative voice on the farm, and in particular the realistic use of dialogue. That does, however, mean there are occasions when language may not be appropriate for younger readers, but the magic is in the complexity of the ideas but told so brilliantly simply and with such effective language.
As the novel progresses, each chapter uses a different knot to represent the events within, the ‘half-hitch’ for example, or the ‘butcher’s knot’. These would be interesting to discuss in class as part of the wider teaching of the text.
The thematic ideas within the story are clearly laid out: friendship, overcoming adversity and family dynamics are all explored as part of the narrative. The interweaving of some te reo also makes for interesting reading and development.
The story is absolutely captivating and presents a real New Zealand experience that is authentic and believable. Really a great read for young adults. Loved it!
Title: The Tomo
Author: Mary-anne Scott
Publisher: One Tree House, teacher’s notes are here
Reviewer: Chris Reed, Macleans College, Auckland
How are you recommending this book? Recommended
Opening sentence: The family meeting was scheduled for late afternoon.