Friday, March 9, 2018

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile by Jo Sandhu

Tarin cleared his throat and stepped forward. He tried to stand tall and unafraid, when inside, his stomach had shrivelled to a hard, cold lump. But he knew he had to do this - for his family, and for his clan. ... All faces turned to look at him. He knew what they saw. A weak, undersized, scared boy, standing apart and alone. 'I will take the Offering.'

Tarin is born with a weak leg.  Winter is coming. These are desperate times. The clan need food and this mammoth hunt will be the last for the year. Tarin is not allowed to hunt but he is watching.  There is an accident and the mammoth herd stampede. At the clan meeting that night Tarin is blamed and his punishment is a form of social isolation called Haamu but Tarin decides he has help his clan, help his family, prove his own worth - he will make the journey to the Great Mother taking the Offering.

The Offering contains a parcel of food, two carved ivory beads, a cave bear tooth, a flint blade, healing herbs, a spear and a small piece of amber with a tiny ant trapped inside.  Tarin will need to make use each of these things on his journey long before he reaches the Great Mother's Mountain.

Meanwhile a brother and sister in a different clan are forced to flee when sickness arrives in their settlement. Kaija and Luuka have lost their younger brother and their mother will die soon.

Each of these young people have knowledge of hunting and gathering and they also know a little about medicinal herbs but one of the things I enjoyed was the different ways each has learnt to make fire:

Tarin - "Out of a leather pouch, he took his fire-lighting stones. He weighed them in his hands. ... Tarin closed his eyes, picturing his mother striking the stones together, drawing the spark, and blowing gently until the flame grew strong."

Kaija - "From a pouch inside her furs, she drew her fire-sticks and the leaf litter provided perfect tinder. Kaija place one pointed fire-stick into a depression in the other and started to twirl. ... usually she and Luuka would take turns twirling the fire-stick downwards, alternating in rhythm so the stick was always spinning. By the time a wisp of smoke rose from the tinder beneath, Kaija felt warm."

Towards the end of The Exile, Tarin shows Kaija and Luuka his method of making fire and they are amazed.

Now I have a huge dilemma.  I am reading my way through all the CBCA Notable books for Younger Readers. I thought I had settled on my top six and then along came The Exile - book one in the series Tarin of the Mammoths so here is another contender for the short list. For me this is a ten out of ten book. I felt as though I was really on this journey with Tarin suffering the cold of the snow and water, trekking through the forest, sheltering in caves along with times of extreme hunger. This is powerful atmospheric writing with a hero who simply must succeed.

You can read some sample pages here. Jo Sandhu shares some of her writing techniques. I enjoyed the discovery that this is Jo Sandhu's first book and that she really enjoys doing research. I remember hearing Michelle Paver talk about all the research she did for her book series including swimming with killer whales.  I do hope this book reaches reviewers at Kirkus and Horn book - it absolutely deserves a wider international audience. I would follow The Exile with  Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver which is a series I found utterly absorbing.

I am keen to pick up Book 2 which is available and Book 3 which is released this month.

While full of life-or-death action and authentic details about food, medicines and weapons of the time, Tarin of the Mammoths: the Exile is also a spell-binding tale of adventure, survival and friendship. It's also an extraordinary ode to the value of being different. Kids Book Review

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