Dawn Raid

Levine Querido. Mar. 2021. 224p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781646140411.
Gr 5-8–Go-go boots, eating your first McDonald’s burger, and watching the Sunday night Disney movie were major life happenings for many tween girls in 1976, including those living outside of the United States. So it is for Sofia, a 12-year-old New Zealander whose close-knit family of seven creates daily drama, making for engaging and entertaining diary entries. Sofia’s father is Samoan and her mother is white. Sofia’s life currently revolves around a speech contest at school, scoring a milk run to make money, and iconic 70s fashion. Yet Sofia’s cultural and political interest is piqued when her older brother Lenny mentions the government Dawn Raids focused on deporting Pacific Islanders who have overstayed their visas, and the Polynesian Panthers, an organization fighting to help their victims. Eventually, Sofia’s interests and mixed ethnicity collide as she comes to realize that she has a voice she can use to confront injustice. Vaeluaga Smith’s debut chronicles ethnic bias through the honest lens of a preoccupied preteen narrator. The diary format preserves Sofia’s inner thoughts, yet authentically bounces to major teen life happenings, at times diluting the plot’s rising action. Readers will gain an understanding of the ethnic and cultural bias of this period along with the naive narrator, providing a soft introduction to a complicated and ongoing issue for those unfamiliar. The illustrative doodles add emphasis to major events and will appeal to tween readers. Text is peppered with New Zealand terms and phrases; a glossary offers opportunities for American readers to learn new words.
VERDICT Smith’s timely novel encourages empathy and understanding while spotlighting underrepresented history, and providing an example of how young people can take action. Highly recommended.

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