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Ness lives with her brother and their cousin's family on Dunnett Island. The island people live a life close to the land: they are ruled by the seasons, but live in constant fear of all things that come from the sea. In the past they lost many of their folk to the ocean's toxins, and to illness brought by the occasional refugee who managed to land on their shores, seeking help.
The adults in this community have been hardened by fear, loss and superstition: as a result Ness and the other young people live a restricted, hard-working life. However, the three teenage cousins - Ness, Ty and Sophie - defy the adults' orders about keeping away from the sea and whenever they can escape unnoticed, they explore and forage in a concealed cove. It's there, in the cove, where they discover a body washed ashore; a man who has been shipwrecked. Delirious and injured, he is barely alive. The three are uncertain: terrified of what might happen to the man, and to them, if he is discovered by their elders. Yet Ness - whose father was a fisherman, before the sea turned traitor - quickly realises that his very existence heralds the possibility that there are other lands, other survivors, and also the possibility that the world's seas are healing.
Ness undertakes a foolhardy, courageous gamble when she decides to keep the stranger concealed and alive. All too soon she risks everything, including her own life, to help him escape when her close-minded, 'witchhunting' community discovers her secret.
Ness is an imaginative, independent young woman who questions and seeks meaning in a world her elders would drain of all variety and joy. Gothic in setting, The Sea-wreck Stranger is a gripping post-apocalyptic novel.
Vogel Award Winner 2008.
Shortlisted for New Zealand Post Children's Book Award: Senior Fiction 2008.