Review: Bugs by Whiti Hereaka

What is it?

The cover of the book Bugs

Bugs by Whiti Hereaka

First published 2013

A New Zealand, young adult contemporary novel.

The Back Cover Blurb

Meet Bugs: smart, sarcastic, sixteen and stuck in a small town without a driver’s license.

Bugs has been best mates with Jez forever, they’ve always been Jez and Bugs, Bugs and Jez. That is until Stone Cold, the new girl, arrives in town.

Year 12 was already going to be a challenge without adding spoilt, bitchy Stone Cold to the mix. Why would anyone want to be mates with her? But things are never as they seem on the surface — not the picture perfect postcard views of Taupo, not the drama queen antics of Stone Cold, not the quiet brooding of Jez. Not even Bugs.

Now as the future closes in, each will struggle with expectation; either trying to live up to them, or trying to live them down.

What I thought

Bugs was recommended to me when I asked for NZ YA, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it. I’ve finally found a NZ YA book that totally worked for me, so apologies in advance if this is less of a review and more of a ramble about everything I loved about it.

  1. The main character, Bugs, is fantastic. Her voice is great. She’s cocky but also unsure of herself. She’s got dreams but she’s bogged down by reality. She’s a bit judgmental but not self-aware enough to realise it, which really makes me want to see some scenes from the other characters’ POVs, to see how they’d interpret things.
  2. It’s character-driven rather than plot-driven. It’s introspective but not whiny. It’s slow but not boring. Sometimes it jumps forward in time and throws us wholly into a scene, rather than holding our hand from one point to another. But it works. It all works.
  3. It tastes of Aotearoa New Zealand. The setting, the language, the essence is so New Zealand-ish, that it made me ache with the familiarity of it, even though my teen years couldn’t have been more different to Bugs’. I read the e-book and made 26 highlights (which is a lot more than the 0 I normally make) and most of them are NZ-specific things. I think my favourite was “we’d bring a packet of Raro and a couple of Tux for lunch”
  4. I loved (and hated) the bittersweetness of it. These kids (and kids like them in real life) deserved so much more from their teachers and the other adults in their lives. There was so much potential left unfulfilled. I wanted everything to work out at the end, and for the characters to be happy, and (no spoilers) it didn’t work like that. This isn’t some sweet half-hour sitcom in book form, it’s more of a slice-of-life documentary. Real life doesn’t tie everything up with a neat bow.

Okay, that’s four reasons. Plenty enough for me to encourage everyone to read this book. Hunt it out at your library, order a copy online, nag your local bookstore, and immerse yourself in Bugs’ world. You won’t regret it.

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