Ruby Yarrow is 14 and she's the good girl who helps her mum. She cooks, she looks after the little ones and she would rather do all the work herself than make her brother Max help as he's meant to. That's okay with Ruby because she knows her mum loves her and relies on her. But it's not okay with Ruby's best friend Tia. 'You know what, Ruby Yarrow,' Tia yells, 'I'm not talking to you until you stop being a doormat.' That gets to Ruby. But how do you stop being a doormat? How do you get some backbone and start standing up for yourself? She can't even get her own bedroom, so why does she think she could get accepted for the school trip to Brazil? But Tia has made her start thinking - and things will never be the same again for Ruby. Or her family.
~Random House New Zealand
This YA work from New Zealand author Fleur Beale tells the story of 14 year old Ruby Yarrow who takes being "the good kid" in her family to such a level that her family tends to take advantage of her helpfulness, treating her more like a doormat who will do all the dirty work for them. Ruby doesn't see what they're doing to her until her best friend gives her some tough love to get her to snap out of it. It's also during this time that Ruby, for the first time in her life, discovers something she wants just for herself. Her New Zealand school is planning a student exchange program with a school in Brazil and Ruby wants to be one of the students chosen to go. Problem is, Ruby struggles with a reading disability that hinders quite a few areas of her life. It's so bad, in fact, that she's nearly illiterate. Still, determined to make this trip happen one way or another, Ruby sets out to get an after-school job, ready to pay her own way if she has to, as well as surprising her family when she reveals she's taking Portuguese lessons.
Once Ruby finds a job and starts earning her own money, that small step begins to give her the confidence in herself she needs to tackle other problem areas in her life. She finds ways to confront her family about the ways she's bullied and taken advantage of; she develops more confidence in school; she starts to see that she has a brave enough spirit to tackle any roadblock she comes up against. Ruby even has a few special people come into her life who teach her that she is not her disability, but in fact inform her "you are a clever and confident person."
I found this quick little read to be such an inspiring story for readers of any age, a story that shows that there are ways to make dreams happen no matter the setbacks, if you just have enough belief in yourself and your abilities. It also stresses the importance of finding and holding onto self-respect, and how it's not a weakness to vocalize "I deserve better" from anyone taking advantage of you -- even if that person is blood. This book is geared towards the middle-grade / early YA market, but that's a message that I can see resonating with people of all ages.
I also really enjoyed all of the cultural aspects of New Zealand that are written into the storyline. I will say, works from New Zealand and Australian authors can be tricky to get physical copies of in the US, but if you do happen to come across this one for a good price sometime, I'd definitely recommend giving it a go!
Definitions of some of the New Zealand terminology used in this book ---
Kapa Haka -- a form of Maori dancing
Wharenui -- a type of communal house (aka meeting house) used by the Maori people
Marae -- a sacred, communal place for important religious or social gatherings, ceremonies; commonly a plot of land that has been cleared of brush / trees and then enclosed with a border of stones or wooden posts
Tangata -- Maori term meaning "human being" / "man"
Whenua -- Maori term for "land", can also mean "placenta"
*** when used together, the words Tangata Whenua is the Maori term for when they are referencing their indigenous people / culture; literally translates to "people of the land"