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Bad Oil and the Animals is an astounding novel/novella with themes of global warming, the environment and self-discovery.

Centred around sixteen-year-old Heidi and her new-found friends, it explores the horrific effects of palm oil.  Palm oil is something that sure has a bad reputation now, with everyone now alert and aware of global warming. Harvested mostly from the African Oil Palm, palm oil is in everything, food, cosmetics and even chocolate!

Although we might not see the effects of palm oil first-hand in New Zealand, we can still educate ourselves on the topic. Palm oil harvesting hurts orangutans by destroying their habitats, often leaving baby orangutans orphaned and in sanctuaries in Thailand and Indonesia when poachers kill their mothers to sell the babies as pets. But one of the most eye-opening parts of this book was that palm oil does harm animals… right here in New Zealand.

PKE. Does that sound familiar to you? Probably not. Most New Zealanders (even myself, until I read this book) believe that all farming in New Zealand is 100% clean and green, but plot twist… it is not! Now I am not saying that all farms in New Zealand are like what I am about to describe, because many farmers do an excellent job of caring for their animals. Back to PKE: it stands for Palm Oil Extract. According to research, PKE is a palm oil by-product which is a dry, gritty meal, which cows do not like at first. And New Zealand imports a huge amount of it from South-East Asia.  Nearly all the information above I learnt from reading Bad Oil and the Animals. The rest I learned from doing some research of my own, because the book had me so intrigued on the topic.

While being a short book (126 pages) that can be read in a sitting or two, it sure packs a punch. A mighty one. This book begins with Heidi attending an Amnesty International meeting at her school, where she meets one of her friends who will be part of their undercover protest group. As Heidi learns more about the orangutans and meets people with the same views as her, their protest group comes into the picture.

Another reason this book is so beautifully written and realistic is the diverse culture of the protest group. Meke is a scholarship student from the Pacific Islands, Severn is from Canada, Kim has rich Chinese parents, then there is Heidi and Andy, her next-door neighbour, from New Zealand. This careful detail about so many ethnic groups is what makes this book so real; New Zealand is a bubbling hotpot full of diverse cultures, swirling, mixing, and learning from each other.

As the book goes on, Heidi and her friends get deeper and deeper into their protests. Authoring a book about the grotesque way animals are treated, creating a film about orangutans, their diminishing habitat and more. There are disguises, cover-ups and pure thrills. Bad Oil and the Animals reminds me, in some ways, of George Orwell’s novels. Full of trouble and controversy, they say what needs to be said, and open people’s eyes to the real world. Because of this, I believe that this book will be ever popular, or at least, should be.

I promise you this book should not take long to read – the language is also simple, the book has one, clear plot. I promise you will enjoy this book, and I promise you will have your views on palm oil and deforestation spun right around.

Reviewed by Sasha Maclean, 12 year old reviewer for Hooked on NZ books Te Ao Ano, 21 Oct. 2020. Sasha is a student at Sacred Heart Girl’s College, New Plymouth.

Photo credit: Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash