Author: Ambelin Kwaymullina
Published by: Candlewick Press
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Public Library
How far would you go to save the lives of your friends from the greatest danger you’ve ever faced?
The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf tells the story of a post-apocalyptic future. After the Reckoning, the catastrophic event that wiped out the world, humans were slow to rebuild. Following the writing of their founder Alexander Hoffman, people slowly rebuilt. This time though The Balance must be maintained. And illegals, people who have supernatural powers, are antithesis to The Balance, the maintenance of life and order, and must be controlled. The story centres on the lives of a group of teenagers and children called the Tribe, runaway illegals living in a forest called the Firstwood. Ashala, leader of the Tribe, has been captured and is trapped Detention Centre 3. With her abilities blocked, she must somehow find a way to escape in order to protect the Tribe from Chief Administrator Neville Rose.
This is one of the best YA books I’ve read in a long time. It’s hard to believe that The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is Kwaymullina’s debut novel. Although the novel isn’t set in Australia, due to the continents having reformed into a supercontinent, Kwaymullina set the story in a land with similar landscapes. Her writing is incredibly vivid, painting gorgeous pictures of the grasslands and the forest, as well an invoking the madness, violence and terror found within people struggling to survive. My only complaint about the book was how unrounded Neville Rose and other villains felt at times. Since the story was told from Ashala’s perspective the reader doesn’t get into Neville Rose’s motives. But as much as I love grey areas of villainy, people who are completely evil do exist and just as Neville Rose, they imagine themselves as the good guys. And I think it’s realistic in Kwaymullina to have written that story.
One of my favourite things about the book is how Kwaymullina includes her Indigenous identity, drawing from her heritage, the Palyku people, to form the myths, legends and powers that shape the Firstwood. The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf is a wonderful YA story of Indigenous futurism, confronting colonial stereotypes and imagining Indigenous futures. It’s easy to see the parallels between the illegals and the inhumane treatment of Indigenous people in Australia, Canada, the US and other countries. However, this book isn’t solely a story of despair and hopelessness. It’s a beautiful story of friendship, love and finding a place where you finally belong. Despite their pasts, Ashala and the Tribe have found their home in the Firstwood and are determined to protect it and each other.