The Apprentice Witnesser by Bren MacDibble

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

Bren MacDibble’s middle grade novel, 9-13 years of age, imagines the aftermath of a world impacted by global warming and a pandemic that devastates mainly the male population.

The story is centred in a village of women and children who subsist in a caring community living off the land in a spirit of co-operation.  The men have fled to the mountains in fear of the virus that has already claimed many boys and men.  Lodyma’s husband and elder son are among the dead, so she sends her thirteen-year-old son away to live with the men and hasn’t heard from him, or any news of him from the men who occasionally visit the village. She worries and regrets sending him to the mountains.  In the village Lodyma is known as the Witnesser of Miracles; in a previous life, before the world changed so dramatically, she was an actor and now spins stories about ‘miracles’ to entertain the crowds at the night markets.  In this she is aided by Bastienne Scull, an orphan she has taken into her home.  Bastienne (Basti) has also experienced much sadness and loss in her short life suffering the loss of her family to the virus.  But now she is a wonderful help to Lodyma in the house and has become The Apprentice Witnesser.  Basti understands that witnessing miracles is more about explaining the unknown:  We know that behind every superstition and monster is a real-life miracle.

Young readers are immersed in a world uncomplicated by consumerism, technology and the internet.   Life has devolved to a point where survival can only be achieved through co-operation and caring for one another.  There has been much hardship and terrible sadness but the message is clear, as Basti says:

Life is strange like that when your world collapses. Sometimes you lose everything and think that’s the end. But it’s not.  It’s just the really sad horrible bit before a whole new life starts up.  All you gotta do is hold on.

 A timely message for all times.

The twists and turns in the plot will have young readers turning pages in a hurry, but also weaved into the narrative are messages about present-day problems that led to the context of the novel.  Bren MacDibble has written an interesting and culturally aware novel with positive messages for this generation of young readers.

Bren is acclaimed as a leading author winning the Children’s Book Council Book of the Year Award for Younger Readers in 2018 with How to Bee. In 2019 The Dog Runner won the New Zealand Book Awards Wright Family Foundation Esther Glen Award for Junior Fiction.  Across the Risen Sea (2020) was shortlisted for multiple awards, and The Raven’s Song co-written with Zana Fraillon was an Honour Book for the CBCA Award for Younger Readers.

The Apprentice Witnesser

by Bren MacDibble


Allen & Unwin


ISBN:  978 176118 078 1

$17.99; 256pp




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