Pacific books get youngsters reading

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Lani Wendt-Young hopes more stories can be set in the islands. Photo / Supplied
Lani Wendt-Young hopes more stories can be set in the islands. Photo / Supplied

A fantasy love story set in the islands and being described as the Twilight series of the Pacific is getting young Pacific people excited about reading.

Author Lani Wendt-Young has written two books in the Telesa series, and the third and final book will go on sale this year.

Set in modern Samoa, the novels feature a young couple, Leila and Daniel. Their story is inspired by ancient mythologies throughout the Pacific, including from Tonga and Hawaii, but with a particular focus on the ancient Samoan legend of the telesa - powerful spirit women and guardians of the land.

Mrs Wendt-Young, an English literature teacher, grew up in Samoa and now lives in Auckland with husband Darren and their five children.

She said writing something that Pacific youth could connect with was an easy way to get them reading.

"I wrote the first book because it was the kind of thing I wanted to read as a 14 to 16-year-old growing up in the islands.

There were always so many stories set in other parts of the world but never anything I could directly connect with - never anything in Samoa," she said.

"I'm writing these because I'm thinking of my children and for those Pacific young people who don't read. It's really powerful when you can read a book about people that look like you and think like you and going through the same thing as you. That's what's lighting the fire to read."

The first Telesa novel, The Covenant Keeper, was published as an e-book on the Amazon website in October, 2011. Within two months it had reached the No1 spot on the "top rated fantasy romance" list and was issued in print.

The second book in the trilogy - When Water Burns - was released last year, followed by a novella, I Am Daniel Tahi, in December.

Between 12,000 to 15,000 e-book and print copies have been sold since then and the books have been widely distributed around the world.

They have also been picked up as study novels in several high schools in New Zealand and Samoa , and by tertiary institutions including the University of Guam and the University of Auckland.

Mrs Wendt-Young, whose influences include her famous uncle, writer Albert Wendt, is now working on another series for adults. She said she hoped more stories set in the islands would come out of her novels.

"It really is something that is missing at the moment and not easily accessed. I just hope more Pacific writers get on board."

She is now working on the final book in the series, Telesa: The Bone Bearer.

- NZ Herald

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