Audiobook Review: Straight Up by Ruby Tui

Reviewer: Kate Coughlan

I might be the very last person in Aotearoa to fall in love with rugby legend Ruby Tui, but when I did, I fell hard. It happened while listening to the recently released audiobook of her autobiography (published in print in 2022 and on the bestseller lists for nearly a year). Like so many before me, I was drawn by her charisma and her story of hard-won triumph. 

I'm no sports follower, so I have no expertise about her prowess in the field of ruby and ruby sevens, but I can assure you that she can write and she can narrate. With her ghostwriter, the accomplished Margie Thompson, she has given a gripping account of her life. To date. She is still only in her early thirties and has hardly started. It is a life that could easily have gone in a direction quite different to that of her sporting success on the world stage and a warm place in the hearts of many Kiwis. 

Why do we love her so much? Yes, she's beautiful, and yes, she's a sports star, but there's way more than that. She is a showman, perhaps like her musically gifted Samoan dad, and she can take the crowd with her. Defy anyone to stay dry-eyed watching her spontaneously leading the Eden Park 40,000 following the Rugby World Club win in 2022 with "Tūtira mai ngā iwi". Go on; if you haven't watched it and want a big burst of happy emotion, seek it out.  Then there's her burst-out-loud-laughing BBC interview where she banters so easily with the interviewer: "BBC eh, Better be clear, huh?". She writes that she didn't know what the BBC stood for at the time. The interview captivated fans far beyond New Zealand, and she learned about the BBC. Not that she cared except to check with her Samoan cousins that she'd pronounced her Samoan language correctly. She, the "palangi" in her family, didn't grow up as a Samoan speaker.

She takes to the task of recording her autobiography with great assuredness. It didn't surprise me at all to learn that in her secondary school years, Ruby was a competitive debater and successful public speaker. Now, of course, her public speaking commitments are many. Still, successful audiobook narration is challenging and beyond the skills of many authors. As an addicted audiobook user, I groan when I note an author is narrating their work. Listening with trepidation to Ruby's opening credits, I wondered if it would be one of "those" experiences. It was one of "those" experiences, and for all the right reasons.  

The story is compelling, and her ability to switch between the casual, direct speech and the more measured tones of everything else takes the listener easily on her journey. I was moved to laughter and tears and to wonder and awe. What a woman, what a human. And not because she is banging her own drum, not at all. She uses her communication skills to show how a kid from a messed-up background can use those experiences to fuel achievement. Not because she wants the reader to think how clever Ruby Tui is, oh no. But she hopes that kids who might be in the place she was as a child can see there is a way out. The task of writing about herself did not appeal, but the chance to help others did. 
Her philosophy stands on three pillars: communication (at which she is a star), "greatitude," and love. And so tell her story she must. Thank you, Ruby. You've helped me understand more about women's rugby, more about the hard work required to be an international athlete and much more about how a Samoan-Palangi survives in New Zealand. You've also opened my eyes to what life is like for some kids in violent and unhappy homes. 

Is there anything this woman can't do? Ruby for prime minister, I suggest, she'd soon get us booting up to tackle causes bigger than ourselves. 

Straight Up
By: Ruby Tui with Margie Thompson                                                                                                                                     
Narrated: by Ruby Tui       
Length: 10 hours 21 minutes