The interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin Kwaymullina

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The Tribe. Book 1. Walker Books Australia, 2012 IBSN: 9781921720086
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. For readers who love dystopian novels, or even those whose appetites are becoming jaded with the plethora that abound at the moment, The interrogation of Ashala Wolf, opens up a new dimension in excitement and thought provoking themes in this genre. The book begins with a terrifying scene where a young girl named Ashala is being taken to a machine to begin an interrogation because she has a supernatural power, an Ability. From then on the reader finds out snippets of Ashala's life as an illegal, a person who society believes will disturb the Balance which has been carefully built up after a catastrophe has destroyed the way the world worked.
Kwaymullina explores a future where difference is feared. Instead of fearing the difference in colour and ethnicity that occurs in present society, those barriers have broken down, as the world became one large country. Instead those who have the Ability are put into detention centres to protect the normal society from their powers. Some people with different abilities, like Healers, are given an Exemption, but Ashala, afraid for her life, had escaped to the forest of Firstwood, where she lives with a group of young people. This theme of tolerance is combined with the thread about whether it is ethical to use violence to maintain a society or to change it. As Ashala's companion Ember says, 'You can't change a society for the better with violence, Ashala. Only with ideas.' (pg 208).
Along with these big themes, comes excitement and thrills as the reader follows what is happening to Ashala. The suspense is built up in a very clever way. Each time Ashala is taken to the machine to be interrogated, she reveals more memories of her life and her ability, even though she fights to keep her comrades' names and location a secret.' As a reader I was gripped with terror about what she was going through and what would happen to her little band in the forest and the twists and turns keep me fully engrossed in the story. Ashala's feeling for Justin Connor, the young guard who had betrayed her to the evil Chief Administrator Neville Rose, also add an emotional feel to the story.
I found myself neglecting all sorts of work to sneak off and finish this book - a good indication of its original premise, interesting characters and wonderful Australian setting. A teacher's guide is available. I believe that this would be a fascinating class text or book to use with a literature circle.
Pat Pledger