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Reviewed by Molly, Assistant librarian, Kaipara Libraries
Opening sentence
My new name was George. I traced the name across the cool surface of the window and said it aloud. ‘J-orge’. The first consonant, a foreign sound to my Afrikaans tongue, cut the air.
'Before George' is a charming story that explores identity, friendship and loss. Secretly immigrating from South Africa to Aotearoa with her mother and little sister, 12-year-old Marnya is forced to assume the identity of a boy and take the name George. A devastating train accident leaves George orphaned and placed in a boarding home at an all-boys school, where she unpacks her identity, understands her loss and finds friendship.

The story started strong, and it was easy to fall into George's character. The author's writing style is straightforward and easy to follow for a young reader. There was always a short focus on specific story aspects, as shown through the depiction of the Tangiwai train disaster, which was concise but still gave enough information to understand what happened and capture George's feelings. The world-building and description of landscape and school life were immersive, and I often felt like I was right there with George, experiencing her journey through her eyes, too.

This book is a fantastic option for confident readers seeking a book with friendship, identity and adventure themes. Animal lovers would also enjoy this story as a strong presence of Horse riding is included. I also highly recommend this as a classroom or at-home read-aloud option to be unpacked in a group setting.
Publisher: Huia Publishers
ISBN: 9781775507291
Format: paperback
Publication: March 2023
Ages: 11 -12 years / year 6+
Themes: Identity, family, loss, friendship, resilience