Book Review “Shadow of the Boyd” Diana Menefy

Shadow of the Boyd
Written by Diana Menefy
Reviewed by Katharine Derrick

Teaching notes available at

Shadow of the Boyd is the fictionalised account of Thomas Davidson, a real apprentice seaman who survived the massacre on board the brigantine, Boyd, in the Whangaroa Harbour in December 1809. Menefy uses a combination of diary entries, flashback and present moment to recreate this historical event, a tragic tale of cultural misunderstandings and revenge.

In many ways this is a difficult book to review – I loved it, my 12-year-old daughter didn’t  – and I have heard of a number of readers who fall into either one or other of these categories. However, this blog is not about analysing how readers feel about a book but helping you, the teacher, librarian, parent or student, decide if this book is for you.

In 2011 Shadow of the Boyd was short listed for the NZ Post Book Awards and won the LIANZA Esther Glen award. It is a well crafted book and well deserved these nominations and win. It is not the crafting of the book that is the issue, more the audience it has been aimed at, the style Menefy uses and the content.

Shadow of the Boyd is classified as a junior novel and therefore aimed at children aged 9-12-years-old. This is not the age group intended by the author nor is it the age group I would place it in. A certain amount of lateral thinking is required and even though I have heard of one or two ten year olds who have enjoyed the book I would recommend it for ages 11-15. The content is also better suited for an older age group. Menefy tells it as it was and as such the book is quite graphic and shocking in places.

The style Menefy uses involves constant switching between two time periods. This is the part my daughter found most confusing but from my perspective the transitions are handled smoothly and I was never unsure about the time and place I was in.

So, is this a book you should pick off the library shelf (if you are a student) or one you should offer your students (teachers/librarians/parents)? Absolutely, and I would suggest using it as a read-aloud if read-alone enjoyment or age appropriateness are in question. The historical component about a tragic event in our history, telling the story from both sides, helps us all gain a better understanding of our, sometimes violent, past. Menefy deals with a delicate subject in a balanced way, allowing the reader to consider both sides of the story. She portrays events matter-of-factly without shying away from difficult emotions on either side. I especially like the inclusion of Thomas’s return journey on the City of Edinburgh after being rescued as this is where the reader begins to understand the effect the series of events has had on Thomas’s life. It is also interesting to observe the parallels and differences in two completely separate struggles for survival – one amongst the “enemy” and the other against the violence of the sea.

Menefy, Diana. Shadow of the Boyd, HarperCollinsPublishers Limited, Auckland, 2010.

For more information on the Boyd tragedy:

More about mana and utu:

Further links for more information on the Boyd and mana and utu can be found in the HarperCollins teaching notes.

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One Response to Book Review “Shadow of the Boyd” Diana Menefy

  1. Pingback: NZ Children’s Book Reviews reviews “Thor’s Tale” | New Zealand Children's Book Reviews

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