Dawn Raid

Dawn Raid by Pauline Vaeluaga Smith, Illustrated by Mat Hunkin, 224 pages, Can be read in a few hours depending on your speed, Young Adult

“I carried on walking, trying to act like I didn’t care, but I did.”

~Sofia, p. 11

It’s AAPI Heritage Month! So this month I’m reading a variety of books by Asian American authors but this year I wanted to make sure I also read at least one book that centered Pacific Islanders as are they are often an afterthought in AAPI conversations and I didn’t want to do the same with my book list.

I’m really glad that book was Dawn Raid. I love a book told through journaling/dairying. When done right, which this book does, you get extra little insights that aren’t possible in traditional storytelling techniques. The added illustrations are also a nice story telling device that also is a fun way to show Sofia’s—the main character—personality. I particularly loved the smaller illustrations like hearts next specific sentences.

Dawn Raid draws its title from issue that much of the story revolves around: New Zealand’s traumatic practice of raiding homes of Pacific Islanders in the middle of the night under the guise of finding visa “overstayers.” We learn about this issue and the general terrible treatment of Pacific Islanders as Sofia does. By centering on dawn raids, Smith is also able to raise the beauty of Pacific Islander culture by contradicting the amazing food, music, and games Sofia learns about at school and enjoys with her family with the brutality of this colonist practice.

I learned a lot about the injustice Pacific Islanders face in New Zealand, though I wasn’t surprised by it. Even though the book is set in the late 1970s and in a different country, all of the issues raised are still relevant today and, sadly, not unlike how immigrants and BIPOC people are treated in the US today…and, I suspect, not unlike how Pacific Islanders are treated today, too.

Image of Dawn Raid with protest t-shirt and poster in the background.

Lest you be dissuaded, there’s a lot of joy in this story, too! One of the challenges Sofia faces is overcoming her fear of public speaking. It’s the most literal version of “finding one’s voice” I’ve read in a while, but the way Smith threads this storyline together with the dawn raid storyline is really lovely. And, as someone who participated in high school speech and debate, it was nice to connect with Sofia in that way.

It’s been a huge error on my part to not include Pacific Islander authors and stories in my readings, but this is the start of fixing that. If anyone has suggestions for other authors or books I should read, I’d love to hear them!

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