Saturday, 11 May 2019


Ursa by Tina Shaw  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Fast-paced, exciting and moving, Tina Shaw’s Ursa opens with Leho watching the Black Marks burning books. In the city of Ursa, there are two peoples - the Cerals and the Travesters. One works for the other; one has the resources while the other has the left-overs; one has choices while the other has none. Leho is a Ceral and a canny one at that - able to keep in the shadows, to wander the city unnoticed if he is constantly alert. What happened to make Ursa this way? And why is it getting worse for the Cerals? Is the idea of a promised new land too good to be true? In Tina Shaw’s teen novel we are introduced to a great cast of characters: Leho and his family - his grandmother who holds them all together through iron will, his mother who has been blinded by a sadistic officer of the Black Marks, his older sister who is secretly defiant, and his older brother working in the dangerous factory and plotting even more dangerous endeavours of a revolutionary nature. No one seems to take much notice of Leho, but he’s determined to prove his worth. Not only is he setting out to play his part in overthrowing the system, but he also has a greater secret - a new-found friendship with an unusual Travestor girl, Emee, who he is curiously drawn to. Will there be a time when a Ceral boy and Travestor girl can be friends? Shaw writes with great pace and lively descriptions of the disparate halves of the city, hooking the reader in. Through Leho’s eyes, we discover more about the world he lives in as he begins to understand more about the history of Ursa and the people's desires and needs. He begins to understand his older siblings and the difficulties they endure, and he begins to see the Travesters not as one oppressor but as people with diverse viewpoints. But he also sees increasing hardship and brutality as he is more engaged with an adult world through his work at the Director’s garden, a job he creates to get closer to the heart of control - dangerously close.  And he is not the only one courting danger: revolution is coming. Can he save his family and his friends? What can one unnoticed boy achieve against the Black Marks, against the Director, against a system that is unfair? This is a coming-of-age story that has heart and hope. An increasingly important reminder of regimes that denigrate groups of people through control of resources, with borders and power for the benefit of a chosen few, in a time where nationalism and populist movements are on the rise. Excellent teen reading with its great story-telling and character development, and with an underlying message to rise up against oppression.

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