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Inna Furey, Isabel Waiti-Mulholland

February 22, 2015

Inna Furey Book blurb

Inna_Furey“The first time Leanne looks into Inna Furey’s eyes she feels a cold wind blowing on her face. It doesn’t take long for Leanne to change her question, ‘Who is this new girl?’ to another, far more mysterious one: ‘What is she…?’
This new novel for young adults tells the story of Inna Furey, a new pupil at Leanne’s school who soon goes missing. Nobody knows what’s happened to her, except Leanne, and she can’t tell.
Isabel Waiti-Mulholland is the award-winning author of At the Heart of Hiruharama. This is her first novel for young adults.” ~ from the back of the book

Inna Furey First Page

Chapter One

Finally it was my turn to go up the front. ‘This is quite good, Leanne,’ said my teacher. She waved my story in the air. ‘Very good, actually. You’re the only one who really did try to use descriptive language.’
Everyone turned to look at me as I made my way up to her desk. Per usual, I blushed. I always do when I’m put on the spot. I felt the burning feeling start on my chest and spread up to my face. What if she asks me a question! What if she asks me about “descriptive language”! I don’t even know what that means! I reached Miss West’s desk but instead of handing over my story to me – the way she had done to everyone else – she got up and went over to the blackboard. I had to stay there, standing next to her desk feeling everyone’s eyes on my back.” (p.1)

Ref: Isabel Waiti-Mulholland (2007) Inna Furey. Huia Publishers: Wellington

Themes in the novel


Possible directions for study/questions to apply to Inna Furey

The book begins and ends with the protagonist’s relationship with the (word) ‘extraordinary’. Obviously this provides a nice frame to the story, but ‘the extraordinary’ is a theme in the novel. Further to that, Waiti-Mulholland problematises the meaning of ‘extraordinary’ as it is defined against the concept of the ‘ordinary’; there is a cultural element at play here that merits acknowledgement – what is ordinary? what is extraordinary? according to whom? according to which norms?

Aotearoa2I was put in mind of Hatupatu and the Bird Woman (I imagine I was supposed to be?!), but Hitchcock’s The Birds is also explicitly mentioned… two stories based on quite different relationships with the bird kingdom. I find that interesting. What role do birds play in this story? How are we invited to feel about them? The Haast’s eagle (Harpagornis moorei) is repeatedly mentioned as well. What science/mythologies do we have about this creature that might prove relevant to this story?Hitchcock's The Birds

The book has several institutions in it that play a significant role in modern New Zealand society: the school and the Museum, especially, but zoos and hospitals are also mentioned or used as settings. The media are a feature. The institution of psychology is also featured repeatedly in the form of psychiatrists and the question of mental health that is raised when Leanne tells of her experiences with the giant bird, Inna. What role do these institutions have in such a story? I don’t think their presence in this story is completely innocent. That is not to ignore that the story also takes place in a reserve; in a mangrove swamp; and on a mountain top. How do these settings shape the story?

Consider the final section of the book (in which Leanne procures the bone for Inna the bird and she insists on telling Leanne about her world as it was before man): “‘I want to tell you, I want you to know. My world, Leanne. What it was before men came. Mountains full of silence, valleys full of trees, rivers running clear, pouring into lakes. And everywhere, birds, the world full of their song … and me and my kind watching over them.’ Inna paused. ‘Eating them when necessary,’ she added. ‘Then they came. men … One by one my family died. Their calls ceased. The day came when he too didn’t come back … ‘ Inna began tapping at her bone.
I waited for her to stop. ‘What happened to him?’ I asked.
Inna made a kind of squawk. ‘Men also have to eat,’ she said, turning her head away as though she didn’t want to look at me.” (p.142, italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Later, Inna the bird adds: “‘It was mine, that world […] just as this world is yours. Now I have to sleep. […] An eternal sleep.'” (p.142)

There are also a wide range of characters in this novel; babies, cousins, nanas, families, teachers, museum staff, an ornithologist, etc. How do we feel about these characters? What is our image of ‘the baby’? (innocent, defenseless, ‘the future’, etc) How does this image shape the story? What worldview do these characters help create?

When Inna initially goes missing, Leanne’s Dad gets very worried that the reserve is not safe. He will not speak about his fears or spell out the risks he perceives as being present in the reserve. I find the presence of this sense of risk interesting, because it is so blatantly unfounded; Leanne’s Dad is blind to the reality of the Birdwoman. He doesn’t see clearly the threats that are present. How might we make sense of this? What does it add to the story?

A couple of other questions that may be useful include:

  • What if the story were begun or ended in a different way – in a different place in the narrative? ie if events were told in a different order?
  • What is hidden from the reader? What is hidden from the protagonist? How and why? (and to what effect on the reading experience?)
  • What does Leanne, as protagonist, bring to the story?
  • what role does friendship play in this story? There is not just Leanne’s apparent friendlessness at the start, but her burgeoning friendship with Inna, and the change in her relationship with Susan Wood and the in-crowd as the story goes on.
  • what role does family play? Is family important here?
  • some of the bookstores have this book listed as crime/mystery. That surprised me, actually. How would you catalogue this book? Why?
  • ‘Inna Furey’ is a meaningful name and the play on words that it offers gets referred to quite a bit. What characteristics does this name highlight in the character, Inna?
  • What role does the pounamu play? Does it hint at connections between the Furey family and the bird woman? (The briefs for the next books in the series imply that yes), so what connections?

Texts that invite comparison

Hatupatu and the Bird Woman and Hitchcock’s The Birds in terms of our relationship with birds and by extension nature…

Perhaps Des Hunt‘s work? He takes an interest in our relationship with the environment, as well. Maurice Gee’s Salt and O series also spring to mind as good examples of New Zealand children’s fiction that considers the impact man is having on the planet.

Some of the work on environmental agency might raise questions: eg

  • Stephen Bigger & Jean Webb Developing environmental agency and engagement through young people’s fiction Environmental Education Research Volume 16, Issue 3-4, 2010, pp.401-414 (Special Issue:   Experiencing environment and place through children’s literature.) DOI: 10.1080/13504621003613145
  • actually that whole special issue: Environmental Education Research Volume 16, Issue 3-4, 2010. Special Issue:   Experiencing environment and place through children’s literature
  • An evaluation of characteristics of environmental education practice in New Zealand schools. Chris Eames, Bronwen Cowie & Rachel Bolstad Environmental Education Research Volume 14, Issue 1, February 2008, pages 35-51

Perhaps some of the work on Patricia Grace and Keri Hulme (and others), which can also take an eco-critical point of view, might offer up other suggestions for critical approaches? Not having read these myself, I did a search and was thinking, for example:

  • Diggers, Strangers, and Broken Men: Environmental Prophecy and the Commodification of Nature in Keri Hulme’s The Bone People. Wright, Laura. In Postcolonial Green: Environmental Politics and World Narratives, edited by Roos, Bonnie, Hunt, Alex, Heise, Ursula K, 64-79. Charlottesville, VA: U of Virginia P, 2010
  • Asset or Home? Ecopolitical Ethics in Patricia Grace’s Potiki Duppé, Claudia. In Local Natures, Global Responsibilities: Ecocritical Perspectives on the New English Literatures, edited by Volkmann, Laurenz, Grimm, Nancy, Detmers, Ines, Thomson, Katrin, 121-135. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Rodopi, 2010.
  • Mana Wāhine and Ecocriticism in Some Post-80s Writing by Māori Women  Wood, Brian. Isle: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment14.1 (2007 Winter): 107-124.
  • Ecological Restoration and the Evolution of Postcolonial National Identity in theMaori and Australian Aboriginal Novel. Norden, C Christopher. In Literature of Nature: An International Sourcebook, edited by Murphy, Patrick D, Gifford, Terry, Yamazato, Katsunori, 270-276. Chicago, IL: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998

Waiti-Mulholland’s Inna Furey: a History

Publishing History:

Classed as ‘Young Adult Fiction’ by Huia Publishers, this is apparently the first of five books in a series. The other books are listed in the back of the book as ‘forthcoming’ and described as follows:

  • The Power of Inna Furey. Second in the Inna Furey series. Inna Furey is not herself. At times she displays superhuman strength – and a superhuman temper to match. In order to unravel the mystery of her beahviour, Mrs Furey, Inna, and leanne set off on a perilous journey. Along the way, the green pounamu around Inna’s neck is slowly turning black…
  • Inna Furey’s Return. Third in the Inna Furey stories. Scientists have discovered a way to bring the great eagle, Te Hokioi, back to life. Much as Leanne and Inna would love that to happen, they know that a predator as big as Te Hokioi could never be released into the wild. It would have to be kept in a cage, or in a zoo. The girls must stop the scientists – but how?
  • Inna Furey and the Broken Promise. Fourth in the Inna Furey series. One day Inna tells Leanne a terrible secret. Leanne promises not to tell anyone – but something happens that forces her to break her promise. Even if Inna was prepared to listen, Leanne couldn’t tell her the reason for her betrayal. Is their friendship over forever?
  • Inna’s last Flight. Fifth (and final) in the Inna Furey series. Inna Furey has a choice to make that will change her life forever.

Publishing details: Isabel Waiti-Mulholland (2007) Inna Furey. Huia Publishers: Wellington

Bibliography of secondary literature:

No critical work has been done that I could find.

Author information:

According to a blurb on her on Page and Blackmore (in her capacity as author of At the Heart of Hiruharama):

“Isabel Waiti-Mulholland is a mother and a writer who was only recently discovered by Huia Publishers with several manuscripts gathering dust in her drawer. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Maori, Drama and Cultural Heritage and Museums, but started writing after a dream where a kuia predicted her ‘talk’ would end up in a ‘pakeha shop’.” (


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