The indigenous Australian author draws from a vast, rich cultural tapestry that will be new to many readers. If an "exhilarating dystopia" strikes you as oxymoronic, this vivid, original debut just might change your mind.
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf begins like most dystopian novels, but it does not take long for Kwaymullina to take the reader on a very different journey. As the layers of Ashala’s memories are pulled back, the reader is treated to an intense thriller that just happens to take place in a dystopian society. Though it is the first in a series, the novel reads like a stand-alone, tying up enough loose ends to satisfy the reader while still leaving them wanting more.
Ashala narrates her story with an earnest adolescent voice... This futuristic fantasy offers an admirable heroine and a thought-provoking situation.
—The Horn Book
This genre-blending story will satisfy a wide range of readers. ... The multilayered story will keep teens guessing until the end. ... The author draws upon aboriginal Australian creation stories to bring much needed diversity to the genre.
With plenty of plot twists, ever-present danger, and powerful children, this book is sure to attract readers. ... This is an excellent addition to dystopian literature with grounds for discussion on spiritual, ecological, political, and personal responsibility.
—Library Media Connection
A series of flashbacks slowly unravels the intricate setup, working backwards in a way that imbues Ashala’s current situation with more meaning as the past is revealed, raising the stakes and the tension. ... The dystopian world here offers ... more nuance than the traditional fare.
—Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Creative... The world-building is particularly interesting, as the author incorporates elements of the aboriginal creation story of the Dreamtime and Grandfather Serpent into the protagonist’s visions. Give this one to dystopia fans who are looking for a unique perspective.
—School Library Journal
Kwaymullina’s first American publication combines elements of Peter Pan, A Clockwork Orange, and the X-Men in an eco–fairy tale about children with “abilities” who run away to the Firstwood and live as the Tribe, in harmony with the trees and animals. They’re hunted by corrupt and rule-obsessed adults from the cities, who lock the children up and torture them with the goal of stamping out their abilities and bringing all humanity into the Balance, an ideology born out of ecological apocalypse. Sixteen-year-old Ashala, leader of the Tribe, is one such captive, betrayed by Conner, the beautiful boy she fell in love with, who becomes her jailer. Something called “the machine” is used to rip memories from Ashala’s mind and force her to betray the Tribe. Much of the story is told in these memory flashbacks, which are often evocative, realistic vignettes. It‘s only the larger moral setup that disappoints: the novel operates within a framework of rigid absolutism, with adult figures morally compromised or unequivocally evil, or both, while only children have the legitimacy of a genuine connection to the Earth. Ages 12–up. Agent: Tara Wynne, Curtis Brown Australia. (Apr.)
Gr 7 Up—This debut YA novel and series opener by indigenous Australian Kwaymullina is set in a postapocalyptic Australia where humanity's abuse of the environment has caused a societal and environmental chaos called the Reckoning. Ashala Wolf is one of many young people who have developed strange abilities, such as causing earthquakes, manipulating clouds and the weather, and traveling through time and space in dreams. The government fears people with these abilities, who are referred to as Illegals, and rounds them up for detention in facilities rumored to host terrifying experiments. The narrator, a Sleepwalker, is one of the leaders of the Tribe, a group of Illegals who have evaded capture by hiding in a wilderness area that is home to intelligent, carnivorous reptiles and sentient plant life. When the teen is lured into town and seemingly betrayed by fellow Tribe member Justin Connor, she is arrested and forced into the most frightening detention center of all, where she is hooked up to a machine that will reveal her every thought and secret, endangering her organization. But things are not as they seem, and Ashala's Sleepwalking ability may help her save her people and other Illegals. This is a creative take on some well-worn tropes of the genre: repressive government, youth with unusual powers. The world-building is particularly interesting, as the author incorporates elements of the aboriginal creation story of the Dreamtime and Grandfather Serpent into the protagonist's visions. Give this one to dystopia fans who are looking for a unique perspective.—Kathleen E. Gruver, Burlington County Library, Westampton, NJ
A dystopian adventure from Australia breaks the mold. Betrayed, then captured by Connor, a Detention Center enforcer posing as a sympathizer to the so-called Illegals, Ashala steels herself for harsh questioning. The center is rumored to have a new tool, a machine that can pull and search memories from the minds of prisoners. Ashala's terrified she'll expose the Tribe that depends on her—children born with extraordinary powers into a world that sees them as a threat to the precarious ecological Balance that's endured since a cataclysm nearly ended life on the planet. Most children with these abilities are forced into lifelong detention, their powers muted. Ashala was able to hide her Sleepwalking abilities; her little sister, a Firestarter, wasn't so lucky. The inferno that ensued killed her and their parents and prompted Ashala's escape to the grasslands and forest beyond the city. Ashala has depended on the counsel and friendship of Georgie, who sees possible futures; Ember, whose complex gift involves working with memory; and Connor, whom she trusted. But as the machine does its work, Ashala finds unexpected strength inside what she re-experiences. All is not as it seems as the plot unwinds into the past. The indigenous Australian author draws from a vast, rich cultural tapestry that will be new to many readers. If an "exhilarating dystopia" strikes you as oxymoronic, this vivid, original debut just might change your mind. (Fantasy. 12-18)