JJones, Lloyd (2006). New York: Dial Press. ISBN: 978-0-385-34107-3
In the 1990’s during a regional conflict, the island of Bougainville in the New Guinea area is invaded by opposing forces—called by the island people the Rambos, or rebels, and the redskins, government soldiers. All the white people on the island evacuate except Mr. Watts, a New Zealand native the islanders call ‘Popeye’ because of his appearance, a who is married to a now demented island woman. Mr. Watts reopens the abandoned school house and begins to teach the island children, reading to them from Great Expectations. The story provides the children with an escape from the horrors of everyday existence during the violent civil war. Matilda, the narrator of the story, is entranced ith Pip and his Victorian world, but Matilda’s mother, who is very religious, opposes the story, which has no religious moral. She opposes Mr. Watts and hides the book. When the redskins mistake Pip for a real person, and Mr. Watts can not produce proof that Pip is a fictional character, the results are horrific. Matilda recalls the story from her adult vantage as an educated woman.
The power of literature to sustain humanity in hard times is examined in this story of Civil War in Bougainville, in the New Guineregion. Matilda recalls Mr. Watts, the white man who began to teach the island children from Great Expectations,and the tragic outcomes of that decision.
This book is under consideration as a curriculum addition in our freshman English classes—I grabbed it from the pile to review because the curriculum suggestion list showed it on the YALSA list so I knew I could use it! Usually our student readers lack background and context that educated adults bring to the reading experience, but I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of this conflict. I did not know Bougainville was a real island and assumed it was a fable creation; I was not even picturing the “black” inhabitants correctly. My only advantages were that I had a strong background in the Dickens novel, and that I had the habits of mind which led to recognizing and rectifying my ignorance. It was actually a perfect way to experience a challenging novel from an inexperienced student’s point of view, and I found that the human emotions of the story transcended the specific setting. I also found that the book eloquently communicated the role of Art in lifting humans out of misery and fear, and this message was clear even without knowing Great Expectations. This book enlarges the reader’s world view. The writing was beautiful—clear and plain, and the characters, especially Matilda and her mother, were vivdly brought to uncompromising life.
About the author
Lloyd Jones was born in 1955 and is from New Zealand. Wikipedia says he didn’t graduate from Victoria university because he had too many library fines.
Who is Pip?
Reading Level/Interest Age
Rape threat; violence
Be knowledgeable about the book and prepared to discuss it calmly. Provide complaint form per board policy;
Gather student responses; Share awards and reviews excerpted on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/product-description/0385341067/ref=dp_proddesc_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2008
2008 ALEX Award Winner (Young Adult Library Services Association)
2008 Best Books for Young Adults (Young Adult Library Services Association)
Commonwealth Writer's Prize Winner
Booker Prize Finalist