The best young adult novels that feature indigenous Pacific or Māori characters

Who am I?

As a writer from Aotearoa New Zealand who cares deeply about social issues and human rights, I believe fiction has the power to change hearts and minds and bring us all together with greater compassion and understanding. When I was growing up here, there were few books published by Pacific or Māori writers and we were taught little about their customs or mythologies. I’ve loved watching this change over the last forty-odd years (and particularly the last ten years) and can see how access to these stories has not only empowered Māori and Pacific youth and brought them closer to their culture but enriched everyone who lives in our pacific paradise! 


I wrote...

Book cover of The Crossing: Blood of the Lamb, Book 1

What is my book about?

Maryam refused to play by The Rules, and now they’re out to get her blood...The people of Onewēre, a small island in the Pacific, know that they are special – chosen to survive the deadly event that consumed the Earth. Now, from the rotting cruise ship Star of the Sea, the elite control the population – manipulating old texts to set themselves up as living ‘gods’. But what the people of Onewēre don’t know is this: the leaders will stop at nothing to meet their own blood-thirsty needs . . .

Winner of the 2010 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards: Young Adult Fiction, Shortlisted for the LIANZA Young Adult Fiction Award, Shortlisted for 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Award. 2010 Notable Book (Storylines Children’s Literature Charitable Trust).

The books I picked & why

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Telesa: The Covenant Keeper

By Lani Wendt Young,

Book cover of Telesa: The Covenant Keeper

Why this book?

This trilogy, grounded in Sāmoan mythology, has been called ‘the pacific Twilight.’ It is a thrilling dive into the world of Sāmoan magic and mystery, with an exciting adventure, a compelling love story and it vividly brings Sāmoa’s exotic beauty alive with a supernatural twist. It’s claimed to be ‘the first ever YA novel with an all-Pasifika cast, set in Sāmoa and around the Pacific'. Push out your boundaries and enter Lani Wendt Young’s wonderful imagination . . .

Telesa: The Covenant Keeper

By Lani Wendt Young,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Telesa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An island of secrets. A girl on fire. An epic battle of the elements. Can love truly conquer all? A thrilling love story inspired by Pacific mythology, featuring a sinister sisterhood with an environmental agenda and a fiery yet vulnerable young woman who must master her gifts - before they destroy her and all those she cares about. Leila Folger escapes the stifling misery of life with her American grandmother and goes to Samoa searching to connect with her mother's family. All her efforts to learn more about the mother she never knew are met with hostility. What really happened…

The Whale Rider

By Witi Ihimaera,

Book cover of The Whale Rider

Why this book?

An international bestseller with an amazing film version, this book set in the north of Aotearoa New Zealand, tells the story of eight-year Kahu, last in a chiefly line, who, in trying to win the respect of her grandfather, discovers she has inherited the ability to communicate with whales. It’s a beautiful book that really stirs the emotions and once read, stays with you forever. 

The Whale Rider

By Witi Ihimaera,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Whale Rider as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Eight-year-old Kahu craves her great-grandfather's love and attention. But he is focused on his duties as chief of a Maori tribe in Whangara, on the East Coast of New Zealand - a tribe that claims descent from the legendary 'whale rider'. In every generation since the whale rider, a male has inherited the title of chief. But now there is no male heir - there's only Kahu. She should be the next in line for the title, but her great-grandfather is blinded by tradition and sees no use for a girl. Kahu will not be ignored. And in her struggle…

The Silent One

By Joy Cowley,

Book cover of The Silent One

Why this book?

Another classic title by one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s most-loved storytellers. This moving story follows the special friendship forged between Jonasi, a lonely deaf-mute pacific islander, and a huge white turtle. It’s a book about isolation and prejudice, and how love can heal all. One review describes it as ‘somewhere between fact and fiction, superstition and the supernatural.’ It’s another that’s been made into a fabulous film.

The Silent One

By Joy Cowley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Silent One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Silent One is Jonasi, sent from the sea as a baby to grow up in an isolated Pacific village. Separated from the villagers by his silence and their prejudices, Jonasi finds solace in his underwater world where he develops a special relationship with a huge white turtle. However, the superstitious villagers see both Jonasi and the turtle as evil spirits. A series of natural disasters and a struggle for leadership within the village sweep Jonasi toward his strange destiny.

The Porangi Boy

By Shilo Kino,

Book cover of The Porangi Boy

Why this book?

A book about conquering bullying and standing up for what you believe in, the Māori word ‘pōrangi’ in title means mentally ill. It tells the story of Niko, who lives in a small, rural Aotearoa New Zealand town with a sacred hot spring—and a taniwha (a water monster of Māori legend) named Taukere. When his grandfather dies, Niko must bring the townsfolk together to stop a prison being built on sacred land and convince them the taniwha is real.

The Porangi Boy

By Shilo Kino,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Porangi Boy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Twelve-year-old Niko lives in Pohe Bay, a small, rural town with a sacred hot spring and a taniwha named Taukere. The government wants to build a prison over the home of the taniwha, and Niko's grandfather is busy protesting. People call him porangi, crazy, but when he dies, it's up to Niko to convince his community that the taniwha is real and stop the prison from being built. With help from his friend Wai, Niko must unite his whanau, honour his grandfather and stand up to his childhood bully.

Falling into Rarohenga

By Steph Matuku,

Book cover of Falling into Rarohenga

Why this book?

Tui and Kae, fourteen-year-old twins, are sucked into the Māori underworld, Rarohenga, and must rescue their mother before they’re all trapped there forever. Exciting, mysterious, and full of Māori mythology, this book shows how, in order to truly understand our own unique identity, we must also understand who and where we came from. 

Falling into Rarohenga

By Steph Matuku,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Falling into Rarohenga as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It seems like an ordinary day when Tui and Kae, fourteen-year-old twins, get home from school – until they find their mother, Maia, has disappeared and a swirling vortex has opened up in her room. They are sucked into this portal and dragged down to Rarohenga, the Māori Underworld, a shadowy place of infinite dark levels, changing landscapes and untrustworthy characters. Maia has been kidnapped by their estranged father, Tema, enchanted to forget who she really is and hidden somewhere here. Tui and Kae have to find a way through this maze, outwit the shady characters they meet, break the…

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