While Bird-Wilson’s fragmented structure and prose can sometimes feel stiff, Ruby never disappoints with her big heart and outrageous sense of humor — and her resilient search for her own story. In the end, she finds a fleeting, flawed version of the family she was looking for, and the reader can’t help but wonder what her childhood might have been like.
When Becky Manawatu’s debut, AUĒ (326 p., Scribe, paper, $16.99), opens, 17-year-old Taukiri has just left his 8-year-old brother, Ārama, on their aunt and uncle’s New Zealand farm. Shaken by the death of his foster parents – Ārama’s biological parents – in an accident he survived, Taukiri turns on the car stereo and drives away without turning around, telling himself that his brother will be better off without him. Taukiri unwittingly perpetuates a generational pattern of abandonment; his own biological mother, Jade, “abandoned” him and went into hiding when he was a child.
Manawatu excels at enriching its characters and plots with harrowing detail. With his older brother gone, Ārama finds a box of bandages. and applies them to different parts of her body until all the pain is gone, just like her mother used to. Later, when a letter arrives from Taukiri, Ārama’s abusive Uncle Stu sets it on fire and then flees on his four-wheeler. Ārama lies in bed and puts four bandages over his mouth and two more over his eyes to hold “the tears inside”. When Stu returns, Ārama uses the rest of the bandages over his ears so he won’t hear the thud or the sound of his Aunt Kat crying.
“Auē” is the Maori word for a howling scream, and this layered work weaves a startling tapestry of fierce love and unwavering violence befitting its poetic title. At the farm, Ārama longs for the return of his brother and finds security in a charming friendship with Beth, the hilariously outspoken daughter of a kind neighbor. Meanwhile, Taukiri takes the ferry to New Zealand’s North Island, supposedly in search of Jade. He drifts through jam sessions and street concerts, using music, pills, alcohol and sex to fight his guilt. A third perspective follows Jade and Taukiri’s biological father, Toko, a generation earlier as they attempt to escape a tragic web of gang violence.