A review of Phoebe Nash, Girl Warrior by Justin D’Ath

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Phoebe Nash, Girl Warrior
By Justin D’Ath
Laguna Bay Publishing
ISBN 978-0-9805664-2-0, $14.95, July 2010, paperback, 128 pp

Phoebe Nash is thirteen and excited to be on her first trip to Africa with her parents and little brother, but when her father collapses on an uphill bike ride with Phoebe and they end up hijacked, Phoebe’s family holiday turns into a rather wild adventure. With a sensitivity that belies both his sex and age, D’Ath does a terrific job of capturing both the spirit and mingled insecurity and courage of a young teen girl. Phoebe is both realistic and likeable, and her adventures provide an open window on a culture and series of events that may be unusual to many western young adults.

As you might expect from the author of the Extreme Adventure series, Phoebe Nash, Girl Warrior is very fast paced, and easy to read, with lots of exciting twists mingling with good character driven plot and a lot of fascinating facts. My seven year old (a good reader) read the book within an hour, refusing to stop until she’d finished it and then wouldn’t stop nagging me until I’d read it so she could talk about it with me. Then the rest of my household read it and everyone enjoyed the book, partly because of the warmth and courage of Phoebe, who is a very likeable protagonist, and partly because the book is rich with its setting – the politics, sounds, sights and even scents of Africa: small country towns to bustling cities to plains full of animals:

At first she mistook it for an early sunset, then she saw it was clouds—a curtain of reddish-brown clouds that stretched all the way across the horizons. But unlike most clouds, these ones seemed to rise up out of the earth, not coming from the sky. It took a few moments until Phoebe realised it was dust. (58)

Phoebe’s discovery of this new land – the strange language and unusual people which become the more familiar Swahili, Sospeter – her friend, and his politician father, projects a positive morality about the similarities between cultures. The way in which D’Ath parallels Phoebe’s concern for her father with Sospeter’s concern for his creates a powerful story that children and adults will relate to. The many African animals that move across these pages will delight younger readers, while older ones will enjoy Phoebe’s coming of age, her attraction to Sospeter, and the adventure she has on the back of his motorcycle. For girls in particular, this is a story with a heroine that couples familiarity with courage – Phoebe is a good role model.

This is a book that works across generations. While there’s nothing here that will disturb or challenge younger readers, there is enough action and complexity for older, and more confident readers. Its fast pace and relatively simple vocabulary makes it perfect for struggling readers, but it’s also a pleasurable and powerful tale for good readers of all ages, coupling action with deep characterisation and enough plot complexities to keep readers reading until the end.

About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , and Imagining the Future. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks, and Justin D’Ath will be interviewed shortly.