Dreamy, imaginative Jake is the main character in Rachael King’s new children’s novel Red rocks. Set in and around Owhiro Bay on Wellington’s south coast, this book translates the selkie legend – of the seal that comes ashore in human form - into a local setting of wind and sea, cliffs, rocks and "talking stones".
It overlays the contemporary and specific (Forest and Bird, Greenpeace, the Empire cinema in Island Bay and phrases like "whatever") with a sense of what is timeless (the landscape, the sea, only one computer, no TV or cellphones.) The language is rich, warm and slightly mysterious, like the cover, and the seals themselves are beautifully described as they gambol in the waves and kelp, or dive into the water like a "silky missile".
I wasn’t sure at first how old Jake was supposed to be. When he first meets Jessie, he calls her a "little girl... no more than ten", but Jake himself is still young enough to be told to "go and play" by his dad. He says he can hardly remember what it was like when his parents were still together, but a photograph taken soon after they split up is only two summers old. Perhaps he is about 12, no older, and he often seems younger, but there is a close relationship between Jake and his dad, with whom he is spending the school holidays. I was also pleased to see that the Island Bay community looked out for a boy on his own in the dark after the movie finished!
Rachael King has said that the idea for the book came to her as she walked her first baby son around Wellington’s wild south coast and thought it a place where magic could happen. "We could all use a little bit of magic in our lives, don’t you think?" says Jake’s dad, and this is a story of enchantment, but also of a boy finding the inner strength to solve problems, fight bullies, protect his family and conquer his fear.
One small note: Ted shouldn’t really be fishing out in front of his shack in Owhiro Bay, or even around the other side of the island, as both places fall well within the Taputeranga marine reserve where no fishing is allowed.