Anchored firmly in today's world, Under the Radar is an apt title for students trying to avoid trouble in Auckland’s fictional Manwahe High School. Delivered with humor, issues around cultural diversity, teen relationships, crime and gang influence, offer relevant and contemporary perspectives for teens.
Sione, the main character at Manawahe befriends a new student of Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island and Pālagi ethnicity. Discussing their cultural differences, Sione summarises, “You’ll be fine here then. This is a bowl of fruit salad”. Supporting cultural diversity is an entertaining selective glossary of slang words and more.
O’Leary’s sustained dialogue commits the reader to each character as tension mounts with ongoing gang pressures. Being in with the crowd is contrasted with family lives, both in the negative and positive aspects.
Junior is keen to be part of a gang where everyone has ‘his back’. Oko and his brother Redeemed have left a gang and started their own business making T-shirt designs. Sione’s family forces him into domestic responsibilities that distract from mounting gang pressures. Skills develop as Sione discovers a talent for fixing bikes, lawnmowers and an old car.
Humor threads throughout the teen relationships. Amiable Sione makes embarrassing mistakes, particularly in front of girls, begging the reader to empathise. It is not only the teen relationships but family associated with these teens that provide an entertaining reveal. Ultimately, diverse school friends who stay under the radar make this a realistic and successful story.
Title: Under the Radar
Author: Des O’Leary
Publisher: Ahoy! (The Cuba Press)
Publication: July 2021
Ages: Young adult
Reviewer: Michele Ayres, Librarian, Motueka High School
How are you recommending this book? Recommended
Opening sentence: “I don’t want to go”, Teresa said.
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