Thirteen-year-old Mau is devastated when a freak tsunami takes out his entire island village, leaving him with only shy tree octopi and the less than charming, projectile-vomiting Grandfather birds for company. But not for long. The same storm that destroyed his people also shipwrecked the Sweet Judy upon his island’s shore. The lone survivor is Daphne, a properly bred English lass who appears to be a “ghost girl” to the dusky-skinned Mau. Together they form an unlikely friendship as they attempt to rebuild Mau’s lost “Nation” with the straggling survivors from nearby islands who continue to wash up on the beach. While working to raise food, create laws, and build defenses against the local cannibals, each teen struggles to overcome their own personal demons. Daphne learns that manners don’t help when it comes the necessary murder of a charming, yet psychotic pirate, while Mau discovers that after the tragedy of the tsunami, he no longer believes in gods he grew up with, and refuses to accept that only the gods have the answers: “I want to know why. Why everything. I don’t know the answers, but a few days ago I didn’t know there were questions.” The only thing that’s certain is that one day Daphne’s father will come looking for her. But if he finds her, what will happen to the newly minted Nation? Will Mau and Daphne’s created community just end up as another British colony? Or will the two inventive teens find a way to send everyone home happy? Daphne reminds me of Pratchett’s other headstrong heroine, Tiffany Aching of Wee Free Men fame, while her bond with Mau is reminiscent of the relationship between two of my fav characters in recent YA literature, Matt and Kate from Kenneth Oppel’s awesome Airborn. Pratchett’s trademark humor comes through in the hilarious cultural misunderstandings between Daphne and Mau, especially in the birthing of babies and the making of beer. But he also leaves readers with plenty of food for thought in terms of the politics of nation building, the dubious comforts of religion, and the enduring tenacity of humankind. An unusually thought-provoking survival story of the first order, and winner of the 2009 Printz Honor medal for Best YA Novel of the Year.
Nation by Terry Pratchett