29 May 2009


by Bernard Beckett

Text Publishing. Young Adult. Paperback rrp $19.95

Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Marko is a weak coward, otherwise he wouldn’t be held drugged in a psychiatric hospital by a doctor who wants to kill him and whom he wants to kill because Marko knows his secret. He has purposely withdrawn into silence to accommodate the effect of the drugs he’s being given, but is not taking. No one known to him knows where he is.

The horror begins when a severe earthquake occurs while a group of adolescent students and their teacher, Ms Jenkins, are in the wild a few days into a school excursion. Ms Jenkins sets forth to find a safe exit but doesn’t return. Marko goes in search of her and witnesses a terrible act in progress against her, which leads to her death. An act which may have been prevented if he’d had the courage to intervene.

But Marko is a witness now. The three males, one whom the boy can clearly identify, are in hot pursuit. He manages to make it back to the group and they escape into the bush without their packs, running for their lives.

By travelling through the night and resting through the day, and led by the resourceful Rebecca, they head towards the river which should lead to safety.

But they become separated and Marko is caught by the doctor and ends up playing a game of life and death. But who will live and who will die, depends on the decision Marko makes and if he decides before it is too late.

The happenings occur over twelve disturbing days filled with indifference and disunity between the group, and end with an unbreakable bond forged between them. The chapters alternate between Marko’s diary entries which he records as protection and evidence, and his narrative which tells the parallel story of the happenings with each narrative flowing seamlessly into the other.

Beckett, a prize-winning, New Zealand author, has a deep understanding of adolescent behaviour which is visible in the unmistakeable way he portrays his characters and their feelings. This story is full of pulsing tension and fast-paced action, and was first published in 2002.

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