The History Speech by Mark Sweet: Books Alive (New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults)

CoverThe History Speech is short-listed for the Young Adult Fiction Award in this year's New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults (NZCYA). In its nomination, it was described as "Aotearoa Gothic for the young adult reader" and as not "[shying] away from issues such as racism and child abuse". Learn more about this powerful book in Katie's review below!

This awesome, well-written book, is set in the 1960s and covers relevant issues that affect us here in New Zealand today. The book is told from the viewpoint of Callum, a naïve, caring, and thoughtful boy who is coming to terms with his identity, the world around him and where he fits within it.

Set in a small provincial town, Callum is the only child of a white upper middle class family, with an unhappy mother and bullying father. One of his few companions is his grandfather, although he's now been banned from seeing him as his father and his high-powered friends are planning on having his grandfather wrongfully committed as he won’t agree to a merger of the family business. This is one of the many shocking truths Callum learns of at the wild parties his parents attend. Things are also difficult and lonely for Callum at school: his best friend is no longer talking to him and his favourite teacher has been told to leave school, allegedly due to poor health.

In a bid to stop the engrained and long-standing issues that have emerged in his life, and to confront the wrong-doings of his father and his peers - “ the ones that think they’re superior; that’s that lot” - Callum must discover a different side of himself and make new friends. He records his experiences in his history speech which is to be presented as part of a public contest. However, when Callum’s history speech is found before the presentation by his head teacher, how far will his father and his friends go to stop the truth from coming out?

The History Speech powerfully explores the themes of friendship, injustice, prejudice, child and elder abuse, homophobia, sexism, racism and classism. This is a book you can read more than once and I’m sure I’ll be reading it again. If you are interested in fast-paced, realistic Kiwi novels that confront hard issues in a matter-of-fact way, I highly recommend you read this book. It certainly deserves to be a finalist of the NZCYA this year.

Reviewed by Katie Brazil
The History Speech

Books Alive

To celebrate the New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults, schools and libraries interview finalists in a series of special events called Books Alive. This year the events took place in typical pandemic fashion - over Zoom!

Visit our Books Alive page for Virtual Storytimes and Events.

If you want to hear more about The History Speech and Mark Sweet's life, check out this interview being released on Tuesday 4th August!

The finalist author of The History Speech talks to students from Riccarton High School about the story behind his book and answers some probing questions about writing, being an author and what it feels like to be a finalist in 2020.

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