This year, Hachette Children’s Group launched Bellatrix – a series of feminist retellings of classic literature for young adults. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction would be ‘Where can I get them?’
The first authors to sign on to the series were heavyweights Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Kit de Waal. I didn’t realise that Millwood Hargrave’s The Deathless Girls was part of the Bellatrix series until I saw it mentioned in the official press release. The Dracula retelling captured my attention as soon as I caught a whisper of it on Twitter. The book was only just released in South Africa, so until my much-anticipated copy arrives, I decided to dive into de Waal’s take on Moby Dick – Becoming Dinah.
Firstly, there are no whales or ships, but the soul of the original novel has been captured brilliantly, with obsession being a central theme that touches almost every character.
Seventeen-year old Dinah was raised by her parents on a commune for most of her life. The spiritual haven is situated on a farm owned by an old man named Ahab. Like the wizened old captain in the Melville classic, Ahab is crippled by thoughts of revenge. When Ahab’s wife leaves, Dinah and her mother become his only real anchor to the world.
After years of being home-schooled by her free-spirited mother, Dinah decides she wants to give up home lessons in favour of traditional high school. Having had no real encounters with anyone outside the commune, the result is inevitably disastrous.
When something unspeakable happens, Dinah decides to run away from home and reinvent herself as Ishmael. Unfortunately, she waits too long to leave and ends up agreeing to help the grisly Ahab chase down his stolen ‘Whale White’ camper van. The pair set off together, and while it may not be the escape Dinah wants, the journey sends her down the path of self-discovery she needs.
Becoming Dinah is de Waal’s first foray into young adult fiction. I felt the bright yellow jacket camouflaged the gravitas of this book, so don’t underestimate it based on the cover. It’s a smartly executed exploration of identity, culture and the stormy waters young people have to navigate in order to find themselves in today’s world.
It’s a fast read, told from Dinah’s, and later Ishmael’s, perspective. Dinah is a compelling, complex character. The back and forth between past and present really drives the book forward and makes for compelling reading. The reason behind Dinah’s decision to run away is revealed bit by bit, which made me want to fly through the pages. It’s impossible not to relate to Dinah, which demonstrates just how good de Waal is. We’ve all run away from something, or at least wanted to.
Like Moby Dick, it’s a classic in the making. Do read it and donate your copy to your nearest school library. This is one of those books that could make all the difference in a young person’s life.
See more of my LEGO stories here.