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Reviewed by Kimberley Nielsen, School Library Administrator, Excellere College, Whangarei
Opening sentence
No one in our family could say for sure just how old my great-grandmother Julia really was.
The Candle Trees is a fantasy/adventure story about Julia, a young woman who becomes lost in an Argentinian forest in 1899. She is found by two indigenous women who help her forage food and herbal medicines, the later being that of the candle tree. I thought it was disappointing that Julia questions a few times whether these women are planning to eat her, as there is nothing to suggest that this is their intention. A generous interpretation would be that this is included as an example of actions, attitudes, and beliefs that were held at the time, but it still felt out of place.

Later, after being separated from the women, Julia comes across Andreas, a man who is searching the forest for gold. An interesting discussion could be had contrasting the different ways that Andreas and the two women treat the forest and its treasures (including indigenous peoples, flora and fauna, and minerals).

The story has some beautiful examples of poetic language - “And suddenly, night leapt down like a great black beast, smothering me under its pelt” and “A huge tiredness had descended on me, enveloping me in a wrap-around cloak that distanced me from all my cares – even hunger”

I would have liked to have seen further development of the relationship between Julian (Julia’s 13 year old great-grandson) and the elderly Julia, as highlighted in the blurb, but this is limited to the first and last chapters of the book.

Do you have any advisory warnings for this book? Violence towards indigenous peoples. Note this is brief and largely undetailed but may still be upsetting for some readers.

Would this book work as a read aloud? Yes

Is there a particular part of the country this book is set in? This book is mainly set in northern Argentina in 1899, with a small section set in an unnamed southern part of New Zealand around the 1970’s.
Publisher: Quentin Wilson Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9951437-0-8
Format: Paperback
Publication: November 2022
Ages: Teen
Themes: Survival; Colonisation; Loss of culture and sacred environments.